LOS ANGELES — This was a test, and the Edmonton Oilers didn’t just fail it. They were exposed.
In the first game of the second half of their schedule, against a Kings team the Oilers would dearly like to reel in in the Pacific Division standings, Edmonton was soft, undisciplined and gave up four power-play goals in a 6-3 loss.
In a game that was ruptured by whistle-happy referee Furman South, and to a far lesser extent Marc Joannette, the Kings won every battle on special teams, outclassing the best power play in the NHL while punishing one of the worst penalty kills on the circuit (ranked 27th).
“The refs got involved. There was a lot of calls both ways,” said Oilers head coach Jay Woodcroft. “Our penalty kill could have been a lot sharper and we ended up on the wrong side of the special-teams battle. I thought that was the difference in the game.”
On a night when the Kings hosted a clinic in McDavid Management (one goal, no assists), and the power play was ineffective (0-for-6), well, there were no more bullets at Woodcroft’s disposal. Because he simply does not have a team that can check its way to a win or penalty kill itself out of trouble.
The Kings scored four times on seven opportunities.
“It’s a game we want back on the PK,” admitted Oilers’ Derek Ryan. “I liked our five-on-five game … had some good looks, good zone time. But the penalty kill couldn’t get it done.”
It was a rare night when the Oilers’ power play ran cold. The best unit in the league (31 per cent) usually feasts on nights like this one. Not this time.
“That’s gonna happen some nights,” Woodcroft said. “Our power play has operated at the level it has this season. How about the penalty kill step up and take care of the other team’s power play? If that would have happened, we wouldn’t be talking about our lack of production.”
This is a team that has just two ways to turn the momentum in a hockey game: A goal and a power-play goal.
They don’t have a fighter, they don’t have energy players and they don’t have hitters — even though three unlikely suspects named Zach Hyman, Jesse Puljujarvi and Klim Kostin bravely jumped into the fray Monday.
If this team doesn’t score — and we’re talking mostly about four or five guys here — they can’t change the direction of a hockey game. Even though the aforementioned, unlikely trio tried their best on Monday.
With the score 4-1 for the Kings, Puljujarvi stepped into Viktor Arvidsson with a hard hit, and then stood in against Phillip Danault when the Kings centre came to his winger’s defence.
Hyman flattened big Quinton Byfield with a lovely hit and then scrapped Sean Durzi later on. And Kostin danced with Brendan Lemieux at the end of a long-gone game.
“Our team showed fight and our team showed fire in a game where things didn’t go all our way,” Woodcroft said. “I think that’s a positive sign. We had some good hits on some of their skill players, in a legal fashion. On the physicality side of things, we were right there.”
Someone had to do it, and here we are, with a Finnish skill guy and a young Russian newcomer leading the Oilers in fights this season, with two each. Meanwhile, there are a host of former Western and Ontario League players who are simply not physically engaged enough on a team that would do well to get its hands dirty more often.
“It shows that they want to win. That they want to go to war for all the guys in the locker room,” Kailer Yamamoto said of the players who were on Monday’s fight card.
You wouldn’t have predicted that Kostin and Puljujarvi would be leading this team in fighting majors one game into the season’s second half. Nor would you say that’s a good thing.
“That’s the way the game is going,” Yamamoto said. “It’s getting faster, but I think we need a little more grit from our team.”
This team isn’t hard enough, isn’t tough enough, and its third and fourth lines have so little definition they are really just lesser versions of the top lines.
You can be sure of this: There isn’t an opponent in the NHL that fears playing against the third or fourth lines of the Oilers.
No McDavid? No Draisaitl? No problem for the opposition as far as line matching goes.
Shut down McDavid, shut down Draisaitl (no points), and shut down the power play.
That’s how you shut down the Oilers.