2024 Stanley Cup Playoff Preview: Oilers vs. Kings

Edmonton Oilers centre Connor McDavid holds off Los Angeles Kings defenceman Drew Doughty in the third period of the Edmonton Oilers game versus the Los Angeles Kings on March 28, 2024, at Rogers Place in Edmonton. (Getty Images)

If familiarity breeds contempt, this Edmonton OilersLos Angeles Kings series could bring the heat.

Meeting in the first round for the third year in a row, Edmonton and Los Angeles know each other very well and the Kings will be hungry for revenge after bowing out in seven and six games the previous two series.

And while this should be the best edition of the Kings yet, as they’ve added piece by piece to a roster that’s been building up under GM Rob Blake, the Oilers should also be confident that they have this team’s number. Not only have they been triumphant in the recent playoff meetings, but Edmonton also took three of the four regular season games this season — all after they made their coaching change in November.

“We know how this game is going to go tonight,” Leon Draisaitl said ahead of the most recent meeting between these two, a 4-1 Edmonton win on March 28. “We’ve done it so many times over the last two years. We know exactly how this game is going to go, and we’re going to be ready for it.”

This isn’t remotely close to the 1982 series between Edmonton and Los Angeles, when the Oilers finished 48 points clear of the Kings in the regular season and were heavy favourites going in. If Los Angeles takes down the Oilers in 2024 it won’t be an historically immense upset that includes a “Miracle” win along the way.

The difference between the two this year was just five regular season points, and the NHL today is a place of far greater parity and competitive balance than the Wild West of four decades ago. The Kings aren’t out of this before it begins by any means, and have a grinding, defensive game that could end in a surprising result.

But the Oilers have been the NHL’s best team since mid-November, have learned all the supposed “lessons” a young team needs to experience in defeat before breaking through, and with the Connor McDavid-Leon Draisaitl contracts coming to an end in the next year or two, it’s time for this core to break through all the way to the end.

That’s what they’ve been built for, right?

As we prepare for Game 1 of this year’s Los Angeles-Edmonton series on Monday night, we first dive into our preview.

Oilers Outlook: Back in early November we were starting to wonder if the conversations we’d be having about the Oilers in April would include the possibility of shaking the core to its foundation. Thirteen games into the season Edmonton was 3-9-1, with a dreary .269 points percentage that was better than only the lowly San Jose Sharks who, by the way, the Oilers had already lost to. It was unfathomable to see the Oilers so quickly fall over the cliff but, we thought, if any team could come all the way back from that it was the McDavid-Draisaitl Oilers.

Sure enough, after a coaching change was made on Nov. 12, Edmonton won its first two games and from that time on were the NHL’s best team. Over the past five months, Edmonton is the only NHL team with at least a .700 points percentage (.703) and they even had a shot at the Pacific Division crown until the final week.

So they are all the way back, just as dangerous on offence as ever, and a better defensive team from top to bottom. That includes the evolving superstars at the top recognizing the requirement to be present at both ends, and the bottom end of the roster being fairly well stocked with a mix of grit, defensive awareness, veteran know-how and skating ability.

The time has to be now for this group

Kings Outlook: The past two playoff eliminations at the hands of the Oilers have helped shape this Kings build-up. After going out in a surprising seven games two years ago, they brought in Kevin Fiala for a charge of offence. And after going out again last year in six games, they added Cam Talbot, Pierre-Luc Dubois (with mixed results) and re-signed deadline pickup and shutdown defenceman Vladislav Gavrikov.

Though Blake has overall done a good job building this team up through both the draft and trade market, they haven’t moved up a tier in these three years, finishing with 99, 104 and 99 points. And while this roster is dotted with offensively gifted players such as Fiala, Adrian Kempe, Viktor Arvidsson and an emerging Quinton Byfield, their team style is defined by its defence and suffocating 1-3-1 system.

The Kings allowed an average of 28 shots against per game — fifth-best in the league and just ahead of the Oilers — and according to Natural Stat Trick, allowed the fourth-fewest high-danger chances this season. Their penalty kill, which certainly will be tested by Edmonton’s power play, was the second-best in the league.

“They don’t really make plays; they just rim the puck and sit back all game,” Nikita Zadorov told our Iain MacIntyre after a Kings-Canucks game in March. ‘It’s their goal to don’t play hockey and don’t let the other team play hockey, pretty much.“

It may not be the best TV viewing, but sometimes that style can will a less talented team through in the playoffs. Now, doing that against the Oilers, who have two of the best players in the game and know the Kings well in and out, is going to be a huge task. But, as they say, defence wins championships and the Kings will be determined to bite back on their playoff nemesis.


(5-on-5 totals via Natural Stat Trick)


Oilers X-Factor: If you want to be a difference-making forward in the playoffs (and you’re not an alien talent like McDavid) ideally your skill set includes goal-scoring ability, physical play and generally having that “dog in you.” For the Oilers, that could be Evander Kane, the team leader in hits this regular season who also scored 24 times.

You’re just not always confident in which version of Kane you’re getting. Two years ago he scored 13 times in 15 playoff games, but last year followed up with just three in 12 games. And in the second-round series against Vegas, Kane didn’t score at all and only recorded one assist in the final game.

But if the formula against a neutral zone-clogging Kings team is to dump it in, chase it, and hammer Drew Doughty on the attack as often as you can, Kane is exactly the type of player who could lead that charge.

He has been a little injured this season, but Kane can be a gamer capable of stepping up for the Oilers in their biggest moments. While the opposition has to obsess over how to cover McDavid and Draisaitl, opportunity abounds for Kane to be the real X-Factor in this series.

Kings X-Factor: Though the Kings were dismissed in six games by Edmonton last spring, we have to remember that it very nearly could have gone the other way. The Kings had a 2-1 lead in the series and even a 3-0 lead after one period in Game 4 when they could have put the Oilers on their heels. Edmonton nabbed that game in OT and didn’t drop another game in the series.

So what can the Kings get this year that they didn’t last year? If Dubois decides to be a factor that could be it, but we’re more looking at Byfield to be Los Angeles’ X-Factor. The Kings have rightfully been patient with 2020’s second overall pick and were rewarded by his breakout 20-goal, 55-point season season. Playing a tight defensive game in the playoffs is nice and all, but you’ll still need timely goal-scoring to actually be able to win and a young, six-foot-five, 225-pound winger on the up is a great candidate to provide that. However, it is worth pointing out that Byfield doesn’t enter the playoffs on such a high. Though this was his best season yet, Byfield had gone pointless in nine straight games and goalless in 19 before recording one goal and one assist in Thursday’s finale.

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