The Kings often speak about the necessity of playing to their identity, of being a hard-working, hard-checking team that’s energized by the young legs they’ve filtered into their lineup the past few seasons and empowered by the valiant core four Cup winners who generously pass along their wisdom to the kids.
They found that identity in winning the opening game of their first-round playoff series against Edmonton. They were as far away from that team as possible Wednesday, their identity falling off layer by layer under the relentless physicality and scoring skill of the Oilers in the second and third periods of a 6-0 loss at Rogers Place.
“You lose 1-0, 2-1 or 6-0 it doesn’t really matter. It still counts as one loss,” Kings captain Anze Kopitar said. “We’ll obviously look at it and make adjustments and we realize we’ve got to be better in Game 3.”
Shouldn’t take long to look at it. Their power play was bad enough not only to halt their own momentum but to give life to the Oilers, who scored a short-handed goal in the second period. Edmonton ended a seven-game postseason losing streak in time for the teams’ first-round series to shift to Crypto.com Arena for Game 3 on Friday and Game 4 on Sunday.
“It’s a seven-game series. I think we knew going in we weren’t going to go 16-0 in the playoffs,” defenseman Matt Roy said. “We just need to put it behind us and move forward.”
There’s certainly little sense in looking back at a game that got away from them after a decent first period. They hit the post/crossbar once and had another shot nearly trickle over the goal line in the first 20 minutes but got nowhere on two power plays, a familiar lament.
The Kings are scoreless in eight power-play chances over the first two games, a hole that threatens to swallow them up. Their power play during the regular season ranked 27th in the NHL with a 16.1% success rate, a longtime thorn made worse by losing Drew Doughty to wrist surgery. The Oilers were four for eight on the power play in the first two games, another downfall for the Kings after their mediocre penalty-killing success rate of 76.7% this season.
Operating at 16% efficiency on the power play might be tolerable. “Operating at 0 and giving up a goal is unacceptable,” coach Todd McLellan said.
“We just didn’t play hard enough, really,” Kopitar said. “We got some power-play opportunities early and couldn’t convert, and they did. It was a pretty big turning point in the game and we just really couldn’t get it going.”
The Oilers took the lead one minute and 22 seconds into the second period. With Kings forward Andreas Athanasiou serving a penalty for goalie interference, the Oilers worked the puck around and got it back to defenseman Tyson Barrie. He found Leon Draisaitl in the right circle, and Draisaitl’s rising one-timer sailed past Jonathan Quick.
Just when it seemed the Kings’ power play couldn’t get worse, it did. The man-advantage unit killed any potential momentum by allowing a short-handed goal to Oilers defenseman Darnell Nurse, whose shot from the right circle deflected off Arthur Kaliyev’s stick and eluded Quick at 6:03 of the second period. That revved up the crowd and generated roars from the orange-clad fans.
Roars shook the building again at 16:05, when Ryan McLeod tipped home a shot by Evan Bouchard for a 3-0 Edmonton lead. Edmonton poured it on with a pair of goals 21 seconds apart early in the third period, by Evander Kane (off Sean Durzi’s stick) and Jesse Puljujarvi, and a power-play goal by Kane at 11:55.
The eight Kings who made triumphant playoff debuts in their 4-3 win in Game 1— defensemen Roy, Mikey Anderson, Durzi and Jordan Spence and forwards Kaliyev, Quinton Byfield, Carl Grundstrom and Blake Lizotte — had mixed results in their second go-round against the aggressive Oilers. But they weren’t alone in flailing and being unable to put two passes together to create a good pace offensively.
“That’s called experience tonight,” McLellan said. “A lot of guys had their eyes opened up as to what playoffs is all about and others were reminded of what playoffs are all about.”
Kopitar said the Kings will benefit from the comforts of home and the cheers of their home fans, who haven’t seen a playoff game in the now-renamed Crypt since 2018. “It’s a series. We came here, we got the split,” Kopitar said. “We wanted to get two but not everything’s going to go perfect. The series is tied and we’re going home and we should be excited and we are excited about that, to bring it back to L.A. 1-1.”
McLellan said they can fix their passing, and maybe so. But if they haven’t fixed the power play and gotten consistently good enough execution by now, they’re going to need miracles to prevent the Oilers from running away with the series.
“There’s a lot of teams right now that wish they had the opportunity to recover from a 6-0 loss and we have it,” McLellan said.
They’d better be more successful in their recovery than they are on special teams, or a swift exit is all but guaranteed.