5/1 Preview – Kings Focused on Starting Fast, Power-Play Production w/ Season on the Line in Game 5

WHO: Los Angeles Kings (1-3) vs. Edmonton Oilers (3-1)
WHAT: Stanley Cup Playoffs – Round 1, Game 5
WHEN: Wednesday, May 1 @ 7:00 PM Pacific
WHERE: Crypto.com Arena – Los Angeles, CA
HOW TO FOLLOW: VIDEO: Bally Sports West / ESPN – AUDIO – iHeart Radio – TWITTER: @DooleyLAK & @LAKings

TONIGHT’S MATCHUP: The Kings are facing elimination for the first time this season, as they visit the Edmonton Oilers for Game 5 tonight at Rogers Place.

HEAD-TO-HEAD: The Kings were shutout in Game 4 for the first time in the postseason since a 6-0 blanking at Rogers Place in Game 2 back in 2022. Forwards Adrian Kempe (3-1-4) and Quinton Byfield (0-4-4) lead the Kings in scoring going into tonight’s game. All four of Kempe’s points have come on the road and the Swede has 13 points (8-5-13) from nine games played in Edmonton during the last three postseasons combined.

KINGS VITALS: The Kings held a full-team practice yesterday but chose to run an optional morning skate today in Edmonton.

Regarding a starting goaltender, the Kings did not commit one way or the other, though David Rittich was off first after morning skate today. Rittich turned aside 12 of the 13 shots he faced in Game 4, in what was his second career playoff start and he has faced the Oilers 14 times, more than any other opponent. Should the Kings return to Cam Talbot in net, he is 1-2 in this series, winning the team’s only game at Rogers Place last week in Game 2.

The Kings maintained the same alignment yesterday as we saw in Game 4, embedded below for reference –

This morning, Hiller answered that “we’ll have to wait and see” with respect to any possible changes tonight.

Love it or hate it, the Kings believed that Game 4 was their best game of the series. They believed they played as well as they have in a while, despite the outcome. So, despite not scoring, there is no reason to suggest anything in terms of changes to the lineup, but we’ve also seen a different alignment in all four games so far this series. Until warmups we wait to know for sure.

OILERS VITALS: The Oilers last won a series in five games in 2022, when they won four straight games to defeat Calgary 4-1 in the second round.

After allowing just one goal over Games 3 and 4, Oilers netminder Stuart Skinner has seen his numbers rise to a record of 3-1, with a .919 save percentage and a 2.48 goals-against average in this series. Skinner is expected to get the start in tonight’s Game 5 for the hosts following the first shutout of his Stanley Cup Playoff career.

Per Tony Brar of Oilers TV, here’s how Edmonton lined up during yesterday’s practice –

The above alignment represents the same lineup we saw Edmonton utilize during Game 4 on Sunday. Defenseman Evan Bouchard scored his first goal of the postseason, the game-winning goal, in Game 4 on Sunday, his third career playoff game-winning goal, tied for the Edmonton team lead over the last three years.

Notes –
Start Fast
Let’s START of this story right. Because, when asked for one area he’d like to see carry over from Game 4 into Game 5, forward Trevor Lewis responded simply.

The start.

He spoke about how in Games 1 and 3, the start was not where it needed to be, as the Kings were outscored 5-0 cumulatively in the first periods of those two games.

“I think last game, we started well and we just continued it,” Lewis said. “We came at them in waves and I think everyone played the same way. Just kept it simple, forechecked, get the puck back and try to get to the net.”

Now, Game 4 was indeed a good start, but the Kings didn’t score in the first period.

They certainly played well in the opening 20 minutes, they looked the more dangerous team to score the first goal without a doubt, but they didn’t score.

“A good start doesn’t always mean getting the first goal, unfortunately, I thought we had the better start last game, they just happened to get the first goal,” defenseman Drew Doughty said. “The first goal is always important, you want to get off on the right foot. In this building, getting the first goal might be take the crowd out of it a little bit. First goal is important.”

The start will be doubly important tonight.

As Doughty mentioned, it’s important to score first on the road especially. The crowd was relentless in Game 1, but was notably tamer in Game 2, when Adrian Kempe scored twice to open up a 2-0 lead early.

The Kings are certainly better served to score first, there’s no doubt about that, but I think you could say that about any team. If they can score first while playing the same way through the neutral zone, the same way defensively as they did in Game 4, they become a difficult team to beat. If they concede though, and concede more than once, then things change as the time shrinks. If Edmonton scores first, the Kings won’t abandon ship on their approach. Even twice. They can come back from that.

In a game like Game 3, though, it becomes trickier. 3-0 after 20 minutes is a tough mountain for any team to climb back from.

With a start like Game 4, however, whether the Kings score first or not, it sets them up for success moving through the game. As Matthew McConaughey once said, though, it’d be a lot cooler if they diiiiiiiiiiid.

“If you’re down a goal, you’re chasing, it’s hard to come back, they can defend too, I think that’s shown, especially last game,” defenseman Mikey Anderson added. “If you’re down, you’re trying to come back, and then you add in where we stand in this series, it makes it a little extra edge to get over. Coming out and having a good start, trying to get the first goal, will be important. I think both teams are trying to do it.”

As the Kings attempt to replicate their performance in Game 4 in many ways, the start is an important part of that. We’ll know early if the focus translates into the outcome.

Win The Special Teams Battle
Jim Hiller put it pointedly the other day.

“It’s even 5-on-5 and that’s not something that we are proud of, we want to be ahead at 5-on-5 and we want to be ahead on special teams too,” Hiller said. “We’ll make our adjustments and try and get that special teams battle into our favor, it’s an important part of the game.”

Since Game 4 did not feature a 5-on-5 goal, let’s re-visit a statistic.

10 goals at even strength for the Kings, 10 goals at even strength for the Oilers. During Game 4 on Sunday, each team had one power play. Edmonton scored and the Kings did not. While things are even, when playing even, eight power-play goals compared to none the other way is just not a total that will win a series, with Hiller doubling down on the man advantage once again today.

“Our power play right now is out of rhythm,” Hiller said this morning. “They’ve done that job to us, we’ve got to get that back.”

Edmonton is going to get theirs. Perhaps not in every single game, though they’ve scored one in 10 consecutive playoff games versus the Kings. They’re a Top-5 unit on the power play every single season and there’s not a magic formula to change that. With options galore, the Oilers will get their chances on the power play. Limiting Edmonton to one power-play goal, as the Kings did in Game 2 and Game 4, is tolerable, assuming the Kings can get something from their power play as well. The Kings gave up a power-play goal in all six games last year, but won the special teams battle twice, tying once. That came down to finding power-play goals of their own, as they did seven times in that series.

It can be done. For words to become practice, though, the power play has to find the scoresheet.

“The power play hasn’t been good, so we’re not doing a good enough job,” Kopitar said. “Whether that’s movement, getting enough pucks to the net, making plays, the bottom line is it’s not good enough and we’re going to have to be better in Game 5.”

Could LA win tonight without a power-play goal? Yeah, they did it in Game 2. Cue that McConaughey line, though.

It’s just not a long-term, sustainable approach to rely solely on even-strength offense.

Kopitar put it bluntly – the Kings haven’t been good enough in that area.

Not exactly new information, but there are still games to be played, games to be won. With a do or die approach tonight in Game 5, they know they have to get something from the man advantage.

“That a key, that’s a goal, we need to make better decisions, be more hungry around the net and around the puck, get the second opportunities,” forward Kevin Fiala added. “Every time we shoot, they’re clearing it. We made some adjustments and we’ll see it tonight.”

As the Kings prepare for tonight’s game, they’re not exactly looking to share those adjustments they’re trying to put into play. Such is life here in the postseason.

On the power play specifically, it’s the same group that’s scored power-play goals this season. The same group that’s found success before. Hiller indicated yesterday that he’s not looking to change the unit-to-unit personnel, so it’ll be the same group that has to get the job done tonight.

“Just got to put it together, maybe simplify it a little bit more now, get pucks to the net and try to get a dirty one,” Koptiar added.

Dirty or clean, doesn’t much matter. Just got to find one, any way possible.

Everything is on the line tonight, Insiders. Doesn’t really matter how, just need to find a way to force this series back to Los Angeles. Feels like a pretty focused and confident group this morning in being able to do exactly that, but what matters is a focused and confident group when the puck drops in seven hours. Talk soon!

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