The Edmonton Oilers seem to have locked down second place in the Pacific Division after a strong stretch of games. They now have 90 points in 74 games, while the two teams following closely behind are the Los Angeles Kings (88 points in 76 games) and Vegas Golden Knights (85 points in 74 games).
Related: Oilers’ Nugent-Hopkins’ Impact Under-Appreciated This Season
Other than a bad game against the Minnesota Wild on the road, the Oilers have been very good. Their nine-game winning streak at home ended after losing another tight game to the NHL-leading Colorado Avalanche. The Oilers also seemed to get back on track on the road, winning three games in a row in California before dropping the game to the Wild.
It looks like the Oilers have all but clinched a playoff spot, so their future is in their own hands. What is out of their control is who they will play in round one. If the Oilers continue to win games, it will be tough for them to lose home-ice advantage in the first round. However, who do they want to face in that first series?
Why the Oilers Want to Play the Kings in Round One
If the Oilers meet the Kings in the first round, most predict Edmonton to win their first series since 2017. That being said, consensus doesn’t really matter, it will depend on the team’s performance.
The Oilers have already had a stretch battling through injuries. The Kings have had that problem most of the season. Right off the bat, Kings defenseman Sean Walker suffered a season-ending injury, but they were lucky to have some young players ready to step in; it isn’t lucky that they have one of the most stocked prospect pools to choose from. They have had five defensemen step in and put in the work, some more productive than others, including Sean Durzi, Jordan Spence, Tobias Bjornfot, Jacob Moverare, and Austin Strand. All of them are 23 or younger except for Strand, who is 25.
The Kings’ top defensive pairing is out. Mikey Anderson has played 55 games and is listed as week-to-week, while Drew Doughty is now done for the season. The team will miss his offensive production (31 points in 37 games), all-around game, and compete level, especially in the playoffs. This duo was great together this season with an expected goals-for percentage (xGF%) of 56.67 and a goals-for percentage (GF%) of 50.98.
The pairings of Matt Roy with either Olli Maatta or Alex Edler have done better this season. Since Doughty and Anderson are out, Roy has moved up to the top pairing with Durzi. Their stats are significantly worse, which bodes well for the Oilers and any matchup against the Kings’ defensive lines. You would think that either Maatta or Edler could join Roy on the top line, but it likely wouldn’t garner the same results. They have been more sheltered not playing against their opponent’s top line. Neither Maatta nor Edler is a top-pairing defenseman.
The goaltending matchup between the Oilers and Kings is fairly equal. Each team has two goaltenders that aren’t necessarily number one, and the teams have to decide who will be their starter in Game 1 when the playoffs begin. The Oilers’ goaltending has been much better of late than the Kings; LA just got blown out 9-3 by the Avalanche, while the Oilers took Colorado past regulation for the second time in a row this season, outshooting them 11-0 in overtime, and should have won the game.
Edmonton’s goaltending has been very inconsistent, but both netminders are finding their game at the right time. Mikko Koskinen has a .902 save percentage (SV%) this season, while Mike Smith has a .903 SV%. In comparison, the Kings’ Jonathan Quick has a .906 SV%, and Cal Petersen has a .895, which isn’t promising if LA wants to rely on their defensive game to defeat the Oilers.
On offense, the Kings are no match for the Oilers, even though they have done alright for themselves this season. Philip Danault has had a resurgence offensively, scoring 23 goals, while the team has two of the best two-way centers in the league. But their star power doesn’t come close to the Oilers’. Edmonton has also controlled the season series, winning three of four matchups and three in a row. Their one loss came during a stretch when they lost 13 of 15 games.
Golden Knights Could Be Stanley Cup Favorites if Healthy
The Golden Knights have done damage in every postseason they’ve played. They have won seven series in the four seasons since they entered the league, making it to the Stanley Cup Final in their first season and the Conference/Semi-Finals in the last two. The one season they lost in the first round came after they were up 3-1 in the series against the San Jose Sharks in round two, losing in double overtime and then overtime in Game 7 after the controversial major penalty.
If healthy, the Golden Knights can be a dangerous team in the playoffs when the salary cap goes away and all of their good players, who have been swapping in and out of the long-term injured reserve (LTIR), can return to the lineup . They currently have Nolan Patrick, Reilly Smith, and Nic Hague on the injured reserve.
The Golden Knights are in the playoff race despite the lost man-games, including significant time for key players. Mark Stone has played 29 games this season, Max Pacioretty has played 31, Jack Eichel has played 26 games, Patrick has suited up for just 25 games, William Karlsson and Mattias Janmark have gotten into 59 games, Alec Martinez has played just 18, and Robin Lehner has played 42 games. Stone returned to the lineup last game after being activated off LTIR.
Now that Stone, Pacioretty, Eichel, Martinez, and Lehner are back and healthy, the Golden Knights’ depth is at the top of the league – at both forward and defense. The Daily Faceoff has Pacioretty and Stone listed on the third line. That is how deep the group is. They have at least three lines that can match up with the opposition and create mismatches. The Oilers could compete with the Golden Knights’ forward group, but the defense and goaltending don’t come close.
The best days are ahead for Vegas in the final eight games of the regular season as they should be at their best now that all of their stars are back. If they can sneak into the playoffs, they will be a test to any team, not only the Oilers, and have a solid chance of upsetting anyone who finishes above them.
The Kings look to be stumbling into the playoffs, but the Oilers’ best chance at getting out of the first round is against them. Vegas poses a great threat despite losing two of the three games to the Oilers this season already. The final test between the Oilers and Golden Knights comes on April 16.
Rob Couch is a THW freelance writer covering mainly the Edmonton Oilers and Philadelphia Flyers. He covers everything you need to know about fantasy hockey. He will also keep you up to date with NHL Stats News, trade talks, and daily betting guides.
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