Things We Know: Oilers’ potent offence held in check as Kings stay disciplined

Gene Principe and Mark Spector talk about Edmonton Oilers star Leon Draisaitl's Game 2 performance against the Los Angeles Kings, in which he was the best player on the ice for the second game in a row, and why he's able to shine in the post-season.

LOS ANGELES — Things We (Think We) Know. Series 2, Volume 1. 

Things We Know 

After two games of any series, it’s fair to begin identifying trends. In this Oilers-Kings series, you can say that Joonas Korpikoski and the rest of the Kings have found something when it comes to negating Edmonton’s prodigious offence. 

The key is powerplays, where the Oilers’ top guys get their best touches and carry confidence into five-on-five play. L.A. has had to kill just four penalties, and though the Oilers have scored twice, power plays are the primary reason why two games led 2-0 by Edmonton never moved to 3-0 or 4-0. 

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The Kings have limited Connor McDavid to just a single powerplay assist — pointless at five on five.  The rest of Edmonton’s top six — Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (0-1-1), Zach Hyman (0-1-1), Evander Kane (one empty-netter, one assist) and Kailer Yamamoto (0-0-0) — have been contained through two games. 

And yet, Leon Draisaitl romps, somehow. Despite playing two-thirds of his even-strength minutes against the great Anze Kopitar

Things We (Think We) Know 

Edmonton is faster than the Kings, a fair bit bigger and their top-end guys are, if not better, certainly younger and more productive than the Kings’ this regular season. 

But here’s where things are changing: Phillip Danault and Kopitar used to school Edmonton’s centres in the faceoff circle. They controlled the puck when it mattered, and thus controlled the play — at least at the start of most shifts. 

Last spring, however, the Oilers won 50.7 per cent of the draws in Round 1 versus Los Angeles. Through two games this spring, Edmonton has won 56.9 per cent of the draws. 

Though McDavid has struggled (36.7 per cent), Draisaitl (57.8 per cent) has made the circle his own, winning 80 per cent of his power-play draws and 54 per cent of his defensive zone draws. 

But here’s where the scales get tipped: Nick Bjugstad now takes the vast majority of faceoffs on the penalty kill, where he is at 63.6 per cent. Overall, Bjugstad is at 68 per cent, one of the primary reasons for his acquisition. 

I’ll admit it: Bjugstad is better than I thought he was. A solid, veteran depth centreman who knows what he is and is happy to perform as such. L.A. used to have the market cornered on those guys. 

Now, with Bjugstad, Derek Ryan, the injured Mattias Janmark and up-and-coming Klim Kostin, Edmonton’s bottom six is every bit as good as the Kings’. 

Things We Know 

Whining about NHL officiating is every bit the rite of spring that Opening Day and patio beers are. 

It’s the easy way out, because you can always find a 60-40 play where a penalty was a possibility and wasn’t called. Or a play that looks kind of like Michael Bunting’s headshot on Erik Cernak, but received a lesser suspension. 

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Here’s an indisputable fact: There aren’t a bunch of real good refs sitting at home watching games on TV, while the NHL uses second-tier zebras. These guys are the best there is — like it or not — so maybe we should acknowledge how hard the job is and quit whining. 

Watch your favourite player some time. See how many mistakes he makes in a game — muffed pass receptions, missed checks, missed nets on Grade A chances. I guarantee you that your favourite player makes more mistakes in any three-game sample size than the refs or linesmen do. 

Things We (Think We) Know 

The power plays in L.A.-Edmonton favour the Kings 10-4. This is an accurate depiction, give or take a minor, of the series. The Kings have been way more disciplined than Edmonton. 

As for Bunting, I remember covering Alex Burrows and the Vancouver Canucks back in their 2011 run, alongside a certain Toronto Star scribe who nicknamed them, “Alex and the Head Snappers.” Between Burrows’ flipping and Maxim Lapierre’s flopping, many Canadians east of the B.C. border found themselves cheering for the Bruins that spring. 

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I wonder today what those folks think of Bunting, whose act is very similar. He’s just not as good at it as Burrows was, and Bunting is beginning to hurt his team more than help it. 

Do the Leafs re-sign Bunting this summer? Would you want your team to? Discuss… 

I value a pest, and I get the role. I’m just not sure Bunting does, entirely.  

Things We Know 

Looking for a fresh start, recovering first-rounder Klim Kostin has found fresh footing in Edmonton. In search of the same thing, Jesse Puljujarvi has found the press box in Carolina. 

Kostin has made that difficult leap from a guy who was supposed to be a Top 6 forward, to a very useful Bottom 6 winger. He has embraced it, the Oilers fans have embraced him, and he’ll get a new contract and a small raise this summer from GM Ken Holland. 

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Puljujarvi also hasn’t bucked a bottom-six role, but just can’t perform well enough in the role to stay in the Hurricanes lineup. The list of head coaches he has lost — to varying degrees — include Todd McLellan, Dave Tippett, Jay Woodcroft, and now, Rod Brind’Amour. 

Now, Puljujarvi may re-enter the Carolina roster now that Teuvo Teravainen (wrist surgery) is out. But will Carolina re-sign Puljujarvi this summer? Will he sign elsewhere? 

Will he go somewhere on a PTO? Will he head home to Finland? Like Bunting, would you want your team to sign him? 

All are valid questions. 

Things We (Think We) Know 

Prediction: Some NHL club will take one last chance on Puljujarvi this summer, at less than $1 million on a one-year deal. If he doesn’t make it on Team No. 3, The Bison King will take his talents back to Finland. 

Meanwhile, my favourite Klim Kostin story: He and Dmitri Samorukov were friends and teammates for years, even playing on a Russian World Junior team together. When Kostin’s agent told him he had been traded to Edmonton, the next call Kostin made was to his old pal Samorukov, who had been drafted by Edmonton, 53 picks after St. Louis had selected Kostin in the 2017 draft. 

When Samorukov answered the call, Kostin shouts (in Russian), “Hey Sammy! I’m comin’ to town!” 

Samorukov paused. He was on the other side of the deal, heading to St. Louis.

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