Health Gives Oilers the Advantage
Photo credit:© Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
By Jason Gregor1 month ago
Rivalries are built in the playoffs and for the second year in a row the Edmonton Oilers and Los Angeles Kings will battle in round one. There are many new faces on both clubs, including both starting goalies. There is a healthy, respectful level of animosity between the two clubs, and it will only intensify the deeper they go in this series.
The Oilers have six new additions in Stuart Skinner, Mattias Ekholm, Vincent Desharnais, Klim Kostin, Mattias Janmark and Nick Bjugstad in place of Mike Smith, Duncan Keith, Tyson Barrie, Zack Kassian, Jesse Puljujarvi and Josh Archibald.
The Kings also have six different faces (potentially more) with Joonas Korpisalo, Drew Doughty, Vladislav Gavrikov, Sean Walker, Viktor Arvidsson, and Zach McEwan in for Jonathan Quick, Alex Edler, Troy Stecher, Olli Maatta, Dustin Brown, Brendan Lemieux, and Andreas Athanasiou. Quinton Byfield dressed for two games in a very limited role. He isn’t new to the series, but he’s in a much different role. Doughty and Arvidsson were injured last year.
The Oilers are completely healthy, but the Kings have injury issues. Their biggest off-season addition, Kevin Fiala, hasn’t played since April 1st. He was injured initially on March 9th, then returned and played three games on March 26th, 28th, and April 1st. Gabriel Vilardi hasn’t played since March 26th. They each have 23 goals and are two of the Kings’ top-five goal scorers.
In their nine games since March 27th the Kings are 4-5. Fiala played the first two, while Vilardi missed all nine. The Kings averaged 2.44 goals/game over that time. Fiala produced 72 points in 69 games. He was their leading scorer before he was injured. He gives them a much different offensive dimension, and in two late-season meetings v. the Oilers, the Kings’ offence produced one goal in two losses. In their two victories in November and January, Fiala produced 2-2-4. He makes their power play much more dangerous, and Vilardi gives the Kings six quality top-six forwards.
If one, or both, aren’t ready on Monday it gives Edmonton a major advantage. They need to make the most of it.
I believe both teams will ice a better roster than they had last spring. LA’s blue line with Doughty, Walker, and Gavrikov is more skilled, more experienced, and more physical. The Oilers are much bigger on the blue line and upfront and they are faster.
In their final two meetings, the Oilers beat the Kings at their own game. Edmonton played poised defensively, were patient and capitalized on their limited chances. They won 2-0 and 3-1. LA, even with Fiala and Vilardi, can’t match the Oilers offensively, and if Edmonton can remain sound defensively this series will be the Oilers to lose.
“I would say (we’re) much more mature,” said Connor McDavid last night when asked how this team is different to last year’s group. “We’ve been there. We’ve taken it a step further, with last year, and those are all learning experiences. You need to put (those experiences) into good use now.”
This is the most competitive team the Oilers have iced in 33 years. They enter the playoffs as a strong contender to win the Stanley Cup. They have elite offensive stars in McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored 104 points this year, while Zach Hyman had 83. The Oilers’ top-four forwards combined for 189 goals, 279 assists, and 468 points. The Oilers’ top four was significantly more productive than every other top four in the NHL. The closest was Tampa Bay with 145 goals, 211 assists, and 356 points. Toronto’s top four was third with 145 goals, 205 assists, and 351 points.
Edmonton doesn’t have to worry about an Eastern team until the Stanley Cup Final. Here are the top four of the other seven Western Conference teams.
Edmonton had 45 more goals and 129 more points than Dallas. They had 171 more goals and 196 more points than LA’s top four.
LA wants to play a patient defensive game v. the Oilers, because they can’t match their offence, unless the Oilers play loose defensively. That was an issue in the first half of the season, but in 2023 Edmonton has been much better defensively, and they’ve been outstanding over the final 15 games where they went 14-0-1. The Oilers led the NHL with 4.47 goals/game and were third in goals against/game at 2.20.
Edmonton enters the playoffs as the hottest team in the NHL. But the playoffs are a new challenge.
All 16 teams start 0-0 and the first to 16 wins hoists the Cup. There are no guarantees the Oilers can carry their regular season surge into the playoffs, but I’d be surprised if they suddenly reverted back to the inconsistent, prone-to-giveaway team they were for the first 40 games of the season.
Combine the Oilers recent play, with their consistent offense and the Kings’ injury concerns, and the Oilers are the clear favourite.
It is up to them to show it.
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