LOS ANGELES, CA - Opportunity is knocking for the Oilers as they embark on a three-game California road trip, looking to continue their strong play of late and stay in the hunt in the Western Conference standings.
Edmonton opens the road trip tonight against the Los Angeles Kings, two nights removed from debatably their best performance of the 2017-18 season on Monday as they dominated the NHL-leading Tampa Bay Lightning 6-2 on home ice at Rogers Place.
Thanks to their CBA-mandated bye week and the NHL All-Star break both occurring in the latter half of January, the Oilers have played just seven games since Jan. 10. Despite those games being so spread out, they've been quite successful in them, earning 11 of a possible 14 points with a 5-1-1 record.
Combine that impressive record in their last seven with their 10-2-0 record against Pacific Division opponents so far this season and this trip against the Kings, Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks presents a prime opportunity to continue to make up ground in the Western Conference.
"The motivation for us is to get better, to play better and try to scratch and claw our way up in the standings," said Head Coach Todd McLellan. "These three games starting tonight here in LA, the three throughout California, are going to play a big role in where we go moving forward… We have to come away with wins, it's as simple as that."
"It's a big month for us with a lot of divisional games, and it starts right here," added blueliner Oscar Klefbom. "The whole week is going to be tough, but we're just going to focus on the next day starting with this game… It's a little bit of a playoff feeling when you play these big teams in the west."
"It's a huge week," added forward Milan Lucic. "We know what's at stake with these next three games coming up… Everyone was excited waking up this morning to feel the heat of Los Angeles and hopefully we can carry that into tonight's game."
Heading into tonight's NHL action, the Oilers (23-24-4) sit 13 points back of the Minnesota Wild for the final playoff spot, though the Wild have played two additional games. Edmonton is 11 points behind the Kings, who have played one more game than them.
One of the Oilers two losses against Pacific Division opponents this season did come at the hands of the Kings, however, as the SoCal squad posted a decisive 5-0 victory on Jan. 2 at Rogers Place in their first of four 2017-18 meetings.
The Oilers actually started that game fairly strong, outshooting the Kings 14-12 through 20 minutes. Los Angeles scored five goals in the final period and a half - including three on one power play to start the third frame after Patrick Maroon was assessed a match penalty - to secure the victory.
Starting strong only to see the divisional matchup slip away was a tough pill to swallow for the Oilers, and they'll look to atone for that setback.
"The loss to LA stung," McLellan said. "I thought we played well with them for two periods and then we took a penalty that ended up costing us dearly. They managed to get three goals and the game was over."
"We want to get our revenge, so we've got to be ready tonight," Klefbom added. "It's a good team, we all know that… We've got to be on our toes here."
"Hockey players have a long memory," added forward Drake Caggiula. "You remember what happened last time. We were right there in the game but then on that five-minute we just didn't do a very good job on the kill."
Dustin Brown scored twice in the Kings win, while Anze Kopitar and Marian Gaborik each recorded two assists. Between the pipes, Jonathan Quick was his usual stalwart self, turning aside all 32 shots the Oilers fired his way.
The Oilers will not have to contend with Quick in net for the Kings tonight, as the home team has opted to stick with Darcy Kuemper, who has won three straight starts including back-to-back shutouts, allowing just one goal over that span.
Kuemper is 4-1-1 with a 1.65 goals-against average and .941 save percentage in six career games vs. Edmonton.
Zack Kassian was out of the lineup on Monday against the Lightning due to an illness, but there's a chance he could return tonight against the Kings. McLellan said the winger will be a game-time decision.
The team had Iiro Pakarinen, Mark Letestu and Anton Slepyshev as their de facto fourth line on Monday, and that trio contributed a goal in the victory with Pakarinen's first of the season.
Cam Talbot will make his second consecutive start between Edmonton's pipes, coming off a 32-save performance during Monday's win over the Lightning. He's faced the Kings 11 times in his career, posting a 4-7-0 record with a 3.00 GAA, .908 save percentage and one shutout.
-- Ryan Frankson, EdmontonOilers.com
OILERS (23-24-4) at KINGS (28-19-5)
TV: 8:30 p.m. MST; Televised on Sportsnet West
Tonight's game is the second of four meetings this season between the Oilers and Kings.
The last time these teams met was on January 2nd in Edmonton, when the Kings shutout the Oilers 5-0.
Michael Cammalleri leads all Oilers players in career points against the Kings (17), posting 10 goals, 7 assists and 10 penalty minutes in 22 games. Kris Russell's 37 career games against the Kings are the most by a current Oiler.
Oilers team scope:
The Oilers have only lost one game since dropping a 2-1 decision in Nashville on January 9. With the bye week and all-star break, they've only played seven games in that span, however (5-1-1).
Edmonton is 12 points behind the Flames for third place in the Pacific Division and a playoff spot. They are 11 points behind Los Angeles and 12 back of Anaheim. The Oilers have two games in hand on Calgary, one game in hand on L.A. and four games in hand on the Ducks. Oilers play the Kings and Ducks twice this month and overall eight out of 12 games remaining this month will be against the Pacific Division. The Oilers are 10-2-0 this season against their own division.
Kings team scope:
The Kings are one point behind the Flames for third place in the Pacific but are 7-9-3 against the Pacific this year.
After defeating the Oilers 5-0 early in January, the Kings went on a major slide, losing six straight games. They've since recovered with four wins in their last six.
Anze Kopitar has 20 goals and 55 points this season to lead the Kings in scoring and Dustin Brown is second on the team, tied with Doughty, at 37 points. Kopitar has already eclipsed his totals from last season where he had 12 goals and 52 points in 76 games and is on pace to top his career high of 81 points set in 2009-10. Brown also has surpassed his point total of last season, which was 36 in 80 games.
By the Numbers:
The Oilers penalty kill continues to be the best in the NHL on the road and worst in the NHL at home. On the road, the Oilers have a success rate of 86.6%.
Oilers and Kings both have seen the most success in the third period. In the opening frame, Oilers have scored 37 goals and allowed 50. In the second, Oilers have scored 43 goals and allowed 54 and in the third, Oilers have scored 51 and allowed 53.
Los Angeles has a much more dramatic shift in their play period-by-period. In the first, they've scored 34 goals and allowed 50, in the second they've scored 40 and allowed 37 and in the third they've scored 66 and allowed 34.
OILERS -Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (cracked ribs) is on IR; Zack Kassian (illness) is day-to-day; Adam Larsson (personal) remains out.
KINGS - Jeff Carter (ankle) is on IR; Alec Martinez (lower body) is day-to-day.