For the second consecutive season, the Edmonton Oilers and Los Angeles Kings meet in the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
After falling to Edmonton in seven games in last year’s series, the Kings will look to begin their revenge tour on Monday when they face the host Oilers in Game 1.
Although it is the same two franchises, there are big differences for both squads in the series rematch.
The easiest changes to see will be the goaltenders, with rookie Stuart Skinner pegged to start for the Oilers, while Joonas Korpisalo — acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets at the trade deadline — is slated for the Kings, with Pheonix Copley waiting in the wings.
The big differences do not end there. Edmonton is known for its high-octane offensive attack led by Connor McDavid — who led the league in goals (64) and points (153) — and Leon Draisaitl, but the key addition to the team has been defenseman Mattias Ekholm. Since Ekholm was acquired from the Nashville Predators at the trade deadline, the Oilers have posted an 18-2-1 record.
Last summer, the Kings added Kevin Fiala, who collected 23 goals and 49 assists this season, and it is worth noting that Los Angeles was without its No. 1 defenseman in Drew Doughty and top-six winger Viktor Arvidsson against the Oilers when the teams met last postseason.
“I don’t think last year’s series has a lot to do with this year’s series,” Doughty said. “They’re better defensively and they obviously still have the high-powered offense. We’re better offensively this year than we were last year.”
The clubs split the season series, with the Kings taking the first two clashes and the Oilers winning a pair less than a week apart near the end of the campaign.
While Edmonton is fully healthy, the Kings do have concerns. Fiala and 23-goal scorer Gabriel Vilardi are question marks going into the playoffs and won’t play in Game 1. Defenseman Alex Edler appears ready to return from injury.
Although the Kings are recognized for their defensive game more than the Oilers, they are no slouches. Los Angeles finished 10th in goals for per game. That said, the Oilers were in a class by themselves this season.
With three 100-point players (McDavid, Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins), Edmonton led the league with 325 goals, aided by the best power-play percentage in history (32.4 percent). The Oilers scored 89 goals with the man advantage.
Even so, the Oilers know their success depends on defensive play. Edmonton surrendered only six goals in its final seven regular-season games, a stretch that included 2-0 and 3-1 victories over the Kings.
“I think it was good for us to show each other, more than anyone else, that we can play that game, we can win that way,” McDavid said. “That being said, they were solid, too, last year in the playoffs, and I thought we did a good job doing that (playing defensive). We know the game to expect, they know what to expect from us. There is lots of familiarity there. There shouldn’t be any surprises.”
McDavid is not kidding in that regard, but the familiarity should make for an intense series right from the start.
“We’ve only played them I think 15 times in the last calendar year, and now four to seven more,” Kings coach Todd McLellan said. “There aren’t a lot of surprises between the two teams, there’s only so much you can do in those games.”
–Field Level Media