In a rematch of last season’s fiery Round 1 matchup, the Kings and Oilers are once again going toe-to-toe. It was a series that came down to the wire, with Edmonton edging out Los Angeles in seven games in 2022. One could argue that both teams have improved substantially since then.
Los Angeles added Kevin Fiala this past summer to shore up the goalscoring woes that struck them in that series against the Oilers. Edmonton went out and got Matthias Ekholm from Nashville at the trade deadline to upgrade their blue line. The Swede has been a massive boon since his arrival in Alberta.
While Ekholm is fully fit heading into tomorrow night’s Game 1, the same cannot be said for Fiala. He did not skate with the team during the Kings’ Sunday morning practice prior to their flight to Edmonton and it’s more than likely that he does not suit up for Game 1. Gabe Vilardi has also been out with an injury since March 26 but was on the ice Sunday in a non-contact jersey.
Adrian Kempe became the first Kings player to score 40+ goals in 30 years, building off of his 35-goal performance from a season ago. Aside from him, the Kings will need to rely on players like Anze Kopitar, Viktor Arvidsson and Trevor Moore to keep up the scoring pace against Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Co. in the absences of Fiala and Vilardi. Others like Quinton Byfield and Arthur Kaliyev will have to step up as well.
Negating the Oilers’ two star forwards will be essential to keeping each game close, though the rest of the Edmonton forward corps is full of players with 10+ goals and is a much stronger group than last season’s from a depth standpoint. Both Ryan Nugent-Hopkins––who had his first 100-point campaign––and Zach Hyman had career years and will be at the forefront of the Oilers’ secondary scoring.
Many eyes will be trained on the LA crease, with head coach Todd McLellan not naming a concrete starter. Both Pheonix Copley and Joonas Korpisalo have been stellar in goal.
Korpisalo, acquired from Columbus at the trade deadline, got the start in the final two games of the regular season. It’s possible that he gets the net to begin the series but if things go south, McClellan won’t hesitate to put in Copley.
On the other end, it’s Stuart Skinner’s net to lose. The rookie had a Calder-worthy performance this season, helping right the ship for the Oilers after offseason marquee signing Jack Campbell struggled out of the gate—and continued to struggle.
This series could simply come down to who scores more with both blue lines adept at defending. The Kings’ top defensive pair of Mikey Anderson and Drew Doughty will see plenty of McDavid and Draisaitl down the stretch and are up for the challenge. Per Natural Stat Trick, only Adam Larsson and Vince Dunn of the Seattle Kraken had more 5v5 TOI (1369:22) than Anderson and Doughty, who clocked in at 1308:58.
Anderson, who returned from a five-game absence last Tuesday, is a welcome return to a Kings’ blue line that has also been without Alex Edler, who shed his non-contact jersey for a regular practice one this past weekend. Anderson’s injury, of course, was the result of a hit from behind by McDavid in the Kings’ second-to-last regular season matchup against the Oilers.
Doughty missed LA’s playoff appearance last season after undergoing wrist surgery in early April. The Kings are much better team with him in the lineup and he demonstrated this season how important he is when fully healthy.
Staying out of the penalty box will be essential for the Kings (75.84 PK%), with the Oilers’ power play ranking top of the league (32.4%) by a wide margin. The Kings are no slouches either on the man advantage either though, placing fourth overall at 25.28%. Getting Vilardi and Fiala back would go a long way toward making sure their power play remains a threat all series.
The Kings came ever so close to knocking off the Oilers last year. Can they topple them this time around?