The Day After +3.0: Oilers run Kings out of their own building

Edmonton Oilers Evander Kane
Photo credit:Yannick Peterhans-USA TODAY Sports
Zach Laing
7 days ago
Winning in the playoffs is never an easy task.
When you’re at home, you have your own crowd backing you, but this is a time of year when only the best remain. The games are tight, and every little thing that happens can swing a game one way or the other.
And when you’re on the road, that only amplifies even more as your opposition can feast on the energy their home crowd brings. Those little things become ever more important, and for the Edmonton Oilers on Friday night, that’s what led them to run the L.A. Kings out of their own building in a 6-1 rout.
In Game 1, the Oilers dictated the pace of play thanks to a great start, in which they jumped out to a 2-0 lead and only built off it. In Game 2, it was the other way around, as the Kings jumped out to a 2-0 lead, forcing the Oilers into the trappy game they love to play.
But on Friday night in Game 3, the Oilers got back to their old ways, coming out with a jump from the first shift with physical play, shrinking the Kings from the get-go. It took all of 6:42 for Zach Hyman to be left alone all in front to get the Oilers an early lead — one that was far too much for the Kings to rebound from.
It was a game in which the Oilers’ big guns got the work done, going 3-for-7 with the man advantage, but Evander Kane’s play helped them reach another level. Elevated to the second line, he set up Leon Draisaitl for the 2-0 goal 15:36 into the first frame, adding a goal of his own in the second period when a Cody Ceci shot deflected off him and in to extend Edmonton’s lead to 4-1.
While the Kings tried to do all they could to get back into it — slew-footing, hacking and slashing their way through it — the Oilers kept their heads cool. Kane was on the receiving end of much of it, and when Andreas Englund lined him up in the neutral zone early in the third laying a heavy hit, the lid blew off the pot. The pair would fight, capping off Kane’s night with an elusive Gordie Howe hat trick.
“I thought he played well,” said Oilers head coach Kris Knoblauch.  “It’s obviously nice when you see a player show up on the scoresheet, but now that’s three games he’s been contributing quite a bit physically on the forecheck. If I was playing against him, I wouldn’t be comfortable out on the ice with Evander just because of how physical he is. He’s been helping our team a lot.”
Kane’s the type of player who feeds off games like this, during a time of year like this. His physical play ramps up and so does his willingness to go to the dirty areas. Much like last night, he did so and the team was rewarded for it. Knoblauch rewarded Kane’s strong games in 1 and 2 with the elevation up the lineup, and Kane rewarded he and the team with another excellent game.
But it wasn’t all Evander Friday night, no, as the collective effort the team put in was much improved from Game 2. The Oilers once again looked unified on the ice, working together to break through the Kings’ defensive structure and dictating the pace of play. There’s always a need for that in hockey to win games, but it begins to hit another level in the post-season and the Oilers made that a point of emphasis for this trip to So Cal.
“I’d say five-on-five we defended well. Penalty kill stepped up and defended well there and our goalie was great, so when all those things are going in the right direction, I think we’re a force,” said Oilers defenceman Darnell Nurse. “We got to continue to do that. We can’t just do it in one game and take the next game off. That’s what makes Game 4 so important.
“Every coach tries to teach it from the time you’re six years old that good defence leads to offence, but I mean, it’s so true.”
The Oilers have proven to themselves early in the playoffs that strong starts lead to success. They’ve seemingly struggled with this for years, often finding themselves chasing and working into games backward. It’s what caused their 2-9-1 plummet early in the season and what ailed them at other points during the season.
But as Nurse said, this team can be a force when they get the start they want. When that happens, it forces the opposition to open up their game, allowing the lethal Oilers offence to capitalize on mistakes.
“Early in the game, I thought we played really well. I think that was a lot on the puck play. We were able to enter the zone, spend a little more time in the offensive zone,” said Knoblauch. “They had a little more push in the second, even start of the third period. I think they had some strategies on how to beat our defensive play, they had some different looks, and we’ll have to counter that after we as coaches review the game. Overall, I was happy.”
That strong defensive play helped another Oiler have a big night: Stuart Skinner, who turned aside 27 of 28 shots faced in one of the best playoff performances of his career.
“We’ve mentioned our defensive play being well,” Knoblauch added, “But Stu was very solid in there. If he’s not making those saves that he did, then we’re not acknowledging we played as well as we did.”
Skinner so desperately needed a rebound game for the Oilers. It’s not as if Games 1 and 2 were bad, given the fact that by this writer’s eye, only four of the nine goals he allowed were clean looks, but neither performance was one in which Skinner gave the Oilers a boost. Last night, however, he did just that, saving 1.28 goals above expected, according to Evolving Hockey.
The Oilers won’t skate on Saturday, instead resting up for what will be a key Game 4 on Sunday night in L.A. — one in which Edmonton can push the Kings to the brink of elimination.

Zach Laing is the Nation Network’s news director and senior columnist. He can be followed on Twitter at @zjlaing, or reached by email at zach@thenationnetwork.com.


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