Why it’s important for Oilers to leave no doubt they’re a class above Kings

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LOS ANGELES — We’re about to see how serious the Edmonton Oilers are about being Stanley Cup contenders.

Controlling most of their series against the Los Angeles Kings is one thing. A lopsided Game 3 win is another.

But if the Oilers truly are one of the Cup favourites, they’ll leave no doubt over the next two games and put the Kings away convincingly.

That starts Sunday in Game 4. The Oilers and Kings have been tied through four contests in both their 2022 and 2023 first-round series. The Oilers can buck that trend and take a stranglehold on the matchup heading back to Edmonton.

“Game 4 is a big game,” captain Connor McDavid said. “Whether you’re up 2-1 or you’re down 2-1, Game 4 feels like it’s always a big swing game. I think we’ve learned our lesson from Game 2. We came out a little bit flat and didn’t match their desperation and spotted them three (goals) in the first and had a difficult time coming back.

“We’ve got to be ready right off the hop.”

If they do that, and can propel themselves to another victory, this series should be over for all intents and purposes.

It might be a stretch to suggest the Oilers have dominated the proceedings, but it wouldn’t be far off. As colleague Eric Stephens wrote after Game 3, the talent gap between the two teams is widening.

Game 3 was a masterclass for the Oilers. They were far superior to the Kings in every possible way.

They scored a 96.8 percent on Money Puck’s Deserve To Win O’Meter. If anything, the 6-1 score could have been more lopsided. Expected goals in all situations favoured the Oilers 8.49-2.17.

It was on the short list of the most complete games the Oilers have played in the McDavid area. Toss in much of what they did in the series opener and the blueprint has been established.

“Just trying to regain our play that we had in Game 1 and Game 3,” Oilers coach Kris Knoblauch said.

“It would be great to be able to replicate it,” McDavid said. “I’m sure they’re going to be hungry to come out of the gates hot. We’re going to have to match their level of desperation.

“We’re a desperate group in here. Game 4 is big. We want to be on the right side of things.”

The way things have gone for the Oilers, there’s little reason to believe that can’t happen.

Though the Kings have outscored the Oilers 10-9 at five-on-five in the series, the Oilers have carried more of the play. High danger chances in that situation are 41-28 Edmonton, per Natural Stat Trick.

“It’s felt like we’ve had a lot of possession time with the puck and haven’t spent too much time in the D-zone, which is always nice,” defenceman Brett Kulak said before Game 3. “That kind of thing pays off as the series goes on, too.”

Special teams, a make-or-break component of the sport, couldn’t be more one-sided.

It has looked like the Oilers could score on just about every power play they’ve had. Their success rate isn’t too far off. The Oilers are 7-for-14 in the series. That’s after going 9-for-16 over six games last year. They’ve killed off all 10 advantages the Kings have had, too. Winger Zach Hyman called the penalty killers’ work “the story of the series.”

Knoblauch said how the Oilers play in the first period will go a long way toward determining their fate in Game 4. That goes without saying. The Oilers have outscored the Kings 5-0 in the opening frame in the two wins.

They faced a 3-1 deficit heading into the first intermission of Game 2. Though the Oilers got back to level terms and responded quickly when the Kings pulled ahead early in the third, how they started the game put them in a difficult spot.

“We put in a pretty solid 40 minutes, but it was just too big of a hole to overcome,” Knoblauch said.

The Kings were able to impose their 1-3-1 neutral zone system more than they can when they’re trailing. So, scoring the first goal or two is helpful for the Oilers. It opens the flow of the game and makes for easier rush chances for the Oilers — their bread and butter.

“If you can force them to get out of their structure a little bit, they’re a little more uncomfortable playing that way it seems,” McDavid said.

Still, they were a shot away from winning in Game 2. The Oilers are confident they can pick away at the 1-3-1 to the point of breaking it down. They showed that early in Game 3.

“We’ve seen it a lot. We’ve faced this team a lot. We’ve tried different things,” McDavid said. “Through trial and error, we’ve figured out things that work and things to stay away from. It’s not perfect by any means.

“But I thought we hit them with some different looks and found a way to get through it.”

If not for a couple unfavourable bounces and the lack of an extra save or two from Stuart Skinner in Game 2, the Oilers could easily have been in a position to wrap up the series on Sunday.

That’s not the case, of course. But they’re still in wonderful shape.

All they have to do now is show the calibre of team that they are, impose their will on the series once and for all, and leave no doubt the Kings aren’t in their class.

“I feel like we’ve done a lot of good things,” McDavid said. “With that being said, it’s 2-1 and heading into a big swing game in Game 4. We’ve got to be ready.”

(Photo of Connor McDavid, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Zach Hyman: Sean M. Haffey / Getty Images)

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