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Kings Round One Preview: Oilers Rematch

We can expect a physical, nasty series between two teams who don’t like each other.



With Thursday's victory, the Los Angeles Kings secured third place in the Pacific Division. Setting up a first-round matchup that many fans were asking for against the Edmonton Oilers. 

The Kings and Oilers played a hard-fought, seven games series last season that created a rivalry even players admitted surpassed the Freeway Faceoff. 

We can expect a physical, nasty series between two teams who don't like each other. 

The Kings were without two key players in Viktor Arvidsson and Drew Doughty last season, leaving plenty of fans hopeful that this season will be different. The Kings could find themselves in a similar spot this year, with Gabe Vilardi and Kevin Fiala still questionable for Game One.

Without Vilardi and Fiala it will be a challenging series for Los Angeles, but with Vilardi already skating on his own it appears they'll at least have him back. I'd also be cautiously optimistic about Fiala's return.

Regardless, the keys for this series stay the same.

Stay Disciplined:

This is the number one key for the Kings. They have to stay out of the penalty box.

Edmonton's power play finished the season at 32.4%, a single-season NHL record. Leon Draisaitl's 32 power-play goals are only three fewer than the New York Islanders Philadelphia Flyers had as a team this season. 

If the Kings get into any penalty trouble, they'll be hitting the golf courses early. And Edmonton knows this.

They've shown this season a willingness to try and push the Kings around and goad them into bad penalties. The Kings can't get into that game. 

They need to be physical and stand up for themselves but can't get sucked into anything foolish. 

The one benefit for the Kings this season is a high-powered power play of their own. Last year, the King's power play was abysmal and their inability to score on the man advantage killed them. 

This season they can be more confident in their power play, especially if Vilardi and Fiala return. 

Even still, they can't get into a shootout with this Oiler's power play, that's a game you lose nine times out of 10. 

The Kings need to keep this series at even strength. 

Stick to the Structure

This second key feeds off the first one. If the Kings can keep the series at five-on-five, they have to stay true to their structure.

The Oilers want a fast-paced, high-flying series that allows them to take full advantage of the speed and skill they possess. The Kings can't allow that to happen.

That's not to say the Kings need to spend the whole series on the back foot and play passively, but they need to hold their 1-3-1 structure. They've done a good job dealing with Edmonton's superstars this season. You'll never shut down Leon Draisaitl or Connor McDavid, but you can slow them down. 

In four games against the Oilers this season. The Kings have held McDavid to just three points, only two at even strength. Draisaitl grabbed four in four, with just two at even strength. Again, stay out of the box.

While I wouldn't go as far as to say this is a good stylistic matchup for the Kings, their system does do a good job of slowing teams down through the middle. Edmonton hurts teams when they can quickly transition from defense to offense and attack with speed off the rush. 

It's difficult to do that when the Kings are playing their best hockey. 

Todd McLellan's mentioned that a big growing point for this team is realizing that they can impose their game plan on the opposition every night. They don't have to change their game plan for anyone and they need to keep that in mind heading into this series. 

The Battle in Net:

As with any playoff series, the battle in net is going to be huge. 

We still don't know who's going to start game one for the Kings, but Joonas Korpisalo would be the safe bet at this point. He's been excellent since coming over at the deadline and has a history of playoff success. 

That creates a goalie matchup between Korpisalo and Stuart Skinner. 

This is an incredibly tight matchup. According to, Korpisalo holds a .929 save percentage with 13.49 goals saved above expected, compared to Skinner's .926 save percentage and 14.22 goals saved above expected. 

There isn't much to separate these two and it's very difficult to say who has the edge. 

I'd give the slight edge to Korpisalo right now, simply because he has a bit of playoff experience and Skinner doesn't.

But Skinner is going to come in with a lot of confidence. He's made 63 saves and allowed just one goal against in his last two starts against the Kings. He has their number right now and will feel good about his game heading into the postseason. 

The Kings need to get bodies in front of Skinner and bear down on second or third opportunities if they hope to beat Skinner consistently in this series. 

While they'll hope it doesn't come to this, the Kings can also be confident in Pheonix Copley to come in and save the season again if things go south with Korpisalo. 

Young Players Have to Step Up:

A few weeks ago, McLellan mentioned the need for young players to step up and bring a ton of energy down the stretch and the Kings will need that in round one. 

One of the keys for this team all season has been depth. Players like Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty and Adrian Kempe are all playing at an elite level. But the Kings can't match Edmonton's star power. They need to win this series through their depth. 

This means big performances from young players like Quinton Byfield, Rasmus Kupari, Sean Durzi, Arthur Kaliyev and even someone like Gabe Vilardi if he's healthy. 

Kaliyev's play has improved over the last few games and he's a key part of the second power-play unit, but it's possible he doesn't dress if the Kings are healthy. 

Durzi's familiar with this playoff matchup after last season. With Doughty out he had to take on a significant role in that series. He'll take on a more sheltered role in this series and he needs to perform. 

At his best, he's a fantastic puck mover who can quarterback a successful power play. But he's still too prone to mistakes right now. Those mistakes can't happen. 

Kupari and Byfield are two important players in this series. Kupari's found a good role for himself on the fourth line and penalty kill, but he needs to provide more offense. He's now gone a full 40 games without a goal, and as McLellan pointed out, that can't happen at this level. 

He doesn't need to lead the way offensively, but one or two goals and a few helpers would be huge. He has the talent and has created chances he just needs to turn that into actual production.

Perhaps more than any other young player, Byfield needs to elevate in the postseason. He's had a positive impact on the top line overall, but there needs to be more from him individually. Like Kupari, he's gone a long time without a goal and that can't continue. 

I'm a firm believer that line success is more important than individual success, but Byfield can't finish the series with zero goals and a few secondary assists. He has to step up now. 

Kevin Fiala:

Fiala is the final key I'll touch on. Yes, his health is concern number one and I mentioned that earlier in the piece. But even if he's healthy, there has to be some concern about his performance. 

Historically, Fiala hasn't been the same player in the postseason. 

In his NHL career, he has just 15 points in 35 playoff games and is a -14. While it's fair to point out that a good chunk of those 35 games came before he broke out, his performances over the last two years aren't any better.

In the last two playoffs, he's combined for just five points in 13 games and is a combined -11. His lack of discipline was also a problem last season with him racking up 16 penalty minutes in six games. 

In his absence, we've seen how much the Kings miss his offense and if he can't provide that in the playoffs, the Kings are in trouble. 

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