G48 Game Notes: Oilers look to sweep back-to-back, Kings have a new head coach, and more
By Cam Lewis15 days ago
Following a 5-3 win on Friday in Anaheim against the Ducks, the Oilers will play the second leg of a Los Angeles back-to-back when they face the Kings on Saturday night.
1. This will be the Kings’ first game back following their extended All-Star break and it’ll also be their first without head coach Todd McLellan behind the bench. The Kings announced last Friday, right at the start of their break, that McLellan had been let go and that assistant coach Jim Hiller would be taking over his role.
Though general manager Rob Blake gave his head coach a vote of confidence during a press conference in January, McLellan wound up taking the fall for the team’s surprising mid-season implosion. The Kings had a 19-7-4 record heading into the Christmas break but have gone 4-8-6 since. They had the best points percentage in the Pacific Division in late December and are now sitting in a Wild Card spot.
2. McLellan joined the Kings ahead of the 2019-20 season, one year after being fired mid-season by the Oilers in 2018-19. Edmonton got off to a 9-10-1 start that year and McLellan was let go in late November. A few months later, the Oilers had fallen out of the playoff race and general manager Peter Chiarelli was fired.
It’ll be interesting to see what happens with Blake if the Kings don’t pull out of this skid and wind up missing the playoffs. Blake came on board in April of 2017 and the team made the playoffs in his first season before going into a rebuilding phase over the next three seasons.
L.A. missed the playoffs in 2018-19, 2019-20, and 2021 but stockpiled a lot of talent through the draft. The 2021-22 season saw an earlier-than-expected breakout for the Kings, and they took the favoured Oilers to seven games in the first round of the playoffs. They improved by five points in 2022-23 but again came up short against the Oilers in the first round.
The expectation for the Kings coming into 2023-24 was to win a playoff series. If they miss out or lose in the first round again, it would mean seven seasons without a series victory during Blake’s tenure.
3. A handful of Blake’s roster decisions have gone sideways this season, leading to noticeable criticism for really the first time during his tenure as general manager.
The biggest disaster has been the acquisition and subsequent signing of Pierre-Luc Dubois to Leon Draisait’s contract. The goal was for the Kings to have the best centre depth in the NHL with Anze Kopitar, Dubois, and Philip Danault down the middle. Kopitar and Danaul have played their part, but the $8.5 million man has 10 goals and 20 points through 48 games along with the worst goal-differential among forwards on the team.
Also worth noting, Blake traded away franchise icon goaltender Jonathan Quick and he wound up winning the Stanley Cup with the Vegas Golden Knights, a division rival. While the Kings can’t complain about the goaltending that they’ve received from Cam Talbot and David Rittich this year, Quick has a .919 save percentage over 19 starts for the New York Rangers this season.
4. This game will be a test for the Oilers. Their 16-game winning streak came to an end in Vegas on Tuesday and they bounced back on Friday with a win in Anaheim against a Ducks team that put forward a very strong effort. The Kings are well-rested and have plenty to prove, so they’ll be motivated to beat the Oilers at home in front of their fans.
The Oilers beat the Kings during their one meeting so far earlier this season. It was a 3-2 shootout victory in Los Angeles, the fourth victory of Edmonton’s 16-game heater and the second loss in the Kings’ eight-game slide. The two teams will meet in Edmonton later in February and again in March.
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