Thursday’s game between the Kings and Oilers looked like a mismatch prior to the opening puck drop. Kings-Oilers games often appear to be mismatches, but this one even more so as the home team was playing without Boyd Gordon and Andrew Ference and instead allotted nearly 21 minutes to 20-year-old Oscar Klefbom, who was playing in his 16th career game, and played with a bottom-six that matched up unfavorably to Los Angeles’. The Kings, on the other hand, were able to withstand the absences of Drew Doughty and Robyn Regehr by once again relying on fine performances from Jake Muzzin and Slava Voynov, who have handled the extra minutes and all-situations work quite well over the past week. The final score was 3-0; with another bounce here or there it could have been 5-0.
It is a crime to delve this far into Waking up with the Kings and not acknowledge the impact Los Angeles’ top line had. With the team upset by its performance early in the game against Calgary on Wednesday, it was clear that there would be a concerted effort to open the game with a better start on Thursday. Anze Kopitar, Marian Gaborik and Justin Williams did just that, scoring 27 seconds into the game amidst indifferent defending by Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Oscar Klefbom and Justin Schultz. With the tone set, the line scored again at the nine minute mark of the first period when Kopitar carried the puck into the offensive zone and was afforded enormous swaths of time and space with which to work before finding Willie Mitchell, who fanned on a slapshot but was fortunate in channeling the puck to Gaborik, who was driving towards the net. He buried the puck as part of a three-point effort.
The Kings, the league’s top possession team, rank third in the NHL with a +5.4 shot differential team. The Oilers, among the league’s worst possession teams, rank third-to-last in the NHL with a -5.8 shot differential. In the four-game season series, Los Angeles outshot Edmonton 48-18, 40-24, 50-27 and 48-17. Thursday’s game was another demonstration in the discrepancy between the team’s ability to drive play and work in the offensive zone. The Oilers, whose only quality opportunity was snuffed out by a diving Martin Jones save to take a goal away from Taylor Hall early in the second period, amounted very little of a concerted attack, as it’s hard to generate offense when the puck is rarely on your stick. The season series was fittingly punctuated when the Kings finished with a plus-20 shot differential in the third period.
With some line mixing and matching, it will be interesting to see who will be aligned together at Saturday’s morning skate. The Clifford-Lewis-Toffoli line was able to work the puck deep in the offensive zone, with Kyle Clifford standing out with his forechecking and work along the boards. His post-Olympic play is more advanced in all facets than his play earlier in the season.