While there may not be any steel cages or foreign objects on Monday, it’ll certainly be a grudge match between the Kings and Edmonton Oilers, who eliminated the black and silver from last year’s playoffs.
The Kings started settling that score with a tenacious 3-1 win on Nov. 16 in Edmonton, and now they have a shot to buoy themselves while sinking their rivals a bit deeper in the standings.
The Oilers’ first-round triumph in seven games against the Kings ultimately propelled them to the conference finals, but losses in three of their past four games and seven of their last 11 left them dangling by a thread in the wild-card race. Edmonton fell Saturday to Colorado, the team that knocked it out of the postseason, behind Cale Makar’s overtime winner.
Conversely, the Kings have prevailed in eight of their 11 most recent matches. Those victories included a drubbing of the division-leading Golden Knights in Vegas on Saturday.
Although the Kings’ coaches and players have given assessments of their progress of late, Vegas coach Bruce Cassidy offered an evaluation from an opposing perspective as his team licked its wounds from a 5-1 loss that he called its most disappointing game of the season.
“They found their game. We’ve watched them recently, against Dallas and Boston, they’ve been pretty tight. We knew what was coming,” said Cassidy, whose team defeated the Kings on opening night but has lost to them twice in recent weeks.
“If you’re standing still, that’s when they eat you alive, and that’s what happened,” he added.
The Kings have rediscovered their forecheck and recognized when to drop back into their neutral-zone-clogging 1-3-1 alignment, as Cassidy and his players noted. They’ve also received solid goaltending from Pheonix Copley, who won for the 10th time in 12 decisions Saturday.
That victory was spearheaded by a hat trick from all-star Kevin Fiala, three assists for emergent force Gabe Vilardi and the 500th career road point of captain Anze Kopitar. Those sorts of contributions across lines have been typical of the Kings’ scoring balance.
The Oilers have remained top-heavy. Their top four scorers have 230 points, headlined by Connor McDavid’s 76 and Leon Draisaitl’s 62, compared with only 167 for every other skater who has dressed in a game this season. McDavid is pursuing just the 17th season in NHL history where a player averaged two points per game.
If Edmonton, currently in the last wild-card position, were to miss the playoffs in the process, McDavid’s would be an even rarer feat. Only twice has a player scored two points per game and seen his club fail to qualify for the playoffs (Mario Lemieux with Pittsburgh in 1987-88 and 1989-90).
The Kings have gotten a bit more clarity on three players. First, wingers Trevor Moore and Arthur Kaliyev, who are both on injured reserve, have been deemed “week-to-week,” General Manager Rob Blake told reporters in Vegas. Secondly, defenseman Brandt Clarke has been returned to his junior club, the Barrie Colts, a decision upon which Blake also elaborated.
A surplus of right-hand-shooting defensemen on the Kings’ roster and a desire for Clarke to remain in an ice-time-intensive leadership role factored heavily into the decision. Clarke will return either to the Kings or, perhaps more likely, their top minor-league affiliate once the junior hockey campaign concludes.
“We’ve kind of had that plan all along. We wanted to get him a little bit of the habits of the NHL early on in the season,” Blake told reporters. “I thought he had a really good camp coming out and he earned the right to be here and go through that. He took his conditioning stint in the American League well, and then he went and did a really good job at the World Juniors and helped that team win gold. Now he’s got to continue that in Barrie.”
Edmonton at Kings
When: 7: 30 p.m. Monday
Where: Crypto.com Arena
TV/radio: Bally Sports West/iHeart Radio