Despite their early playoff exit last season, for the first time in ages, there was hope for the Oilers. They looked like a legitimate threat, have one of the best hockey players in the universe on the team, and could only get better from there. An inexperienced team got to know what the grind of the playoffs felt like, and they’d be a legitimate Stanley Cup threat this season.
Instead, the Oilers have 37 points, tied with Vancouver. The only reason their standings position doesn’t look worse is because the Pacific has the Coyotes there to hold down the bottom (again). They’re seven points back of Anaheim, the last wild card team in the West.
There’s lots of blame to go around. Peter Chiarelli’s made some Chiarelli-typical lopsided trades. (Jordan Eberle has nearly as many goals — 13 — as Ryan Strome does points — 17, and Taylor Hall leads the Devils in scoring.) Head coach Todd McClellan seems to be struggling to get the best out of anyone on his roster not named Connor McDavid. Their defense is… yikes. Yikes!
One interesting player to watch for the Oilers tonight is Yohann Auvitu. The French defenseman spent six seasons playing in Finland before signing a contract with the New Jersey Devils. Auvitu split the season between the NHL and AHL last year. He’s been a frequent scratch with the Oilers this year, getting into only 16 games so far. But tonight he might make his debut as a forward on the fourth line, if the Oilers practice lines are any indication. He could possibly just rotate in and out of the lineup and allow someone — okay, probably Connor McDavid — to double shift, but the team seems open to the idea of converting the defenseman to a forward.
Special teams could play an important role tonight — or they could turn the game into a long, terrible slog. Over the course of the season to date, the Oilers are 20th in the power play at home, and 22nd overall. And the Kings have been spending more time in the penalty box than they’d like, and while it’s given them the chance to really fine tune the penalty kill, it’d be a good habit to end. The Kings are tenth in the league this season with time spent on the penalty kill. Some of that could be chalked up to the fact that the penalty kill is so good that they generally are having to spend the whole two minutes down a man. But the PK has gotten enough practice. Maybe it’s time to move on.
But the real “yikes” could come when the Kings have the man advantage. LA’s power play is 24th in the league overall, and dead last when looking at the Kings on the road. That’s… awful is maybe not enough to cover it. But! Almost equally as awful is the Oilers’ penalty kill: last in the league at home and overall. When two terrible forces come up against each other, what will happen? We’re almost certain to get a chance to find out tonight.
Projected Line Combinations
Los Angeles Kings
Pearson - Kopitar - Brown
Gaborik - Kempe - Toffoli
Clifford - Shore - Lewis
Iafallo - Mitchell - Jokinen
Muzzin - Doughty
MacDermid - Martinez
Forbort - Gravel
Maroon - McDavid - Puljujarvi
Cammalleri - Draisaitl - Caggiula
Lucic - Nugent-Hopkins - Strome
Auvitu - Letestu - Slepyshev
Nurse - Larsson
Sekera - Russell
Klefbom - Davidson
Opposing Preview: The Copper & Blue