EDMONTON — With two of the NHL’s best talents, the Oilers’ power play is nothing short of deadly.
But sluggish special teams proved costly for Edmonton in Game 4 of their first-round game against the Los Angeles Kings on Sunday.
For the first time in the series, the Oilers failed to score with the man advantage and lost a 4-0 decision to the Kings, tying the best of seven series at 2-2.
Every aspect of Edmonton’s game needed improvement on Sunday, center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins said.
“It’s the same at every level — power play, shorthanded, five-on-five. It’s just about working. We have to get past those guys,” he said.
“They were working on their penalty kill and didn’t give us as many looks. When we peeked, (goalkeeper Jonathan) Quick stood there. Same thing five against five – we have to find a way to break them.
Led by Connor McDavid, the NHL’s leading scorer, Edmonton dominated on the power play throughout the regular season, finishing the campaign with the league’s third-best power play (26%).
The dynamic group seemed to find another gear early in the postseason, going 5 for 11 through the first three games.
Even in a 4-3 loss to LA in Game 1, Edmonton won the special teams battle, scoring twice on the power play and successfully defending four penalties.
“It seems like the special teams in those first two league games was very important,” winger Evander Kane said.
“The other night we won the special teams losing battle (game 1) and that doesn’t happen very often. (In Game 2) we did a great job again, and that will have to continue throughout our journey here.
The Oilers’ shorthandedness also clicked in the playoffs, denying LA on all but one of their 12 power plays and scoring a shorthanded goal in Game 2.
“If you asked me before the series if there would be so many penalties, I would probably say no. But the special teams need to be in the playoffs and I think we’ve gotten off to a good start,” said deadly forward Zack Kassian.
“Our PK has been great, our power play has scored goals in a timely manner, so if we’re going to have success in the playoffs, especially on the road, we’re going to need that to keep going.”
Edmonton’s penalty kill ranked 17th in the league at the end of the regular season with 79.4 percent.
The Oilers’ special teams looked shaky on Sunday, however.
Goaltender Mike Smith stopped Edmonton from allowing a shorthanded goal early in the second period after LA’s Sean Durzi was called for holding.
Kings center Phillip Danault caught a pass in the defensive end and sprinted onto the ice for a shorthanded breakaway. Smith came out of his crease to make the save, putting his pads in position to deflect Danault’s shot out of harm’s way.
Later in the second, the Oilers had another power-play opportunity when Anze Kopitar was called for holding, but the team struggled to even touch the puck early in the advantage.
Head coach Jay Woodcroft said he expected more from his squad.
“I thought we had some chances on the power play. We did not convert,” he said. “But I thought it was similar to our overall game. As a team, for one man, we can all be better.
Woodcroft preached the importance of staying level throughout the series, saying his group shouldn’t go too high after wins or too low after a loss.
“It’s one game at a time for us and (on Sunday) we lost a game. It’s a missed opportunity and that’s what it is,” the coach said after Game 4. “We’ll do our job, we’ll digest the game and give our players something that will be a focal point before game 5.”
Game 5 takes place Tuesday in Edmonton and the series returns to Los Angeles for Game 6 on Thursday. If necessary, a deciding Game 7 will be played in Edmonton on Saturday.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on May 9, 2022.
Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press