Column: Kings’ slow starts against Oilers in Stanley Cup playoffs could be costly

Kings' Sean Durzi and Arthur Kaliyev try to stop Edmonton Oilers' Connor McDavid.
Kings’ Sean Durzi (50) and Arthur Kaliyev (34) try to stop Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid (97) during the second period of Game 2 in a Stanley Cup first-round playoff series on Wednesday in Edmonton, Canada.
(Jason Franson / Associated Press)

A quick reminder to the Kings, who got away with a sluggish start in the opener of their playoff series against Edmonton and nearly overcame a horrendously lifeless first period in Game 2 before the Oilers pushed back and leveled the series at one game each:

Hockey games are 60 minutes long. Possibly more than that in the Stanley Cup playoffs, where the shootout, thankfully, vanishes for the summer.

Showing up late against the confident, high-scoring Oilers doomed the Kings to playing catch-up in the first two games at Rogers Place. They caught and passed the Oilers in Game 1 but couldn’t do it again in Game 2.


Sleepwalking through the first period before creating and sustaining a spark is a gateway to defeat for the Kings. They can’t continue to do that and expect to win. It plays into the hands of the Oilers, who already have edges in scoring, skill and size.

“There’s really no excuse to the starts we’ve had,” defenseman Drew Doughty said Thursday.

The Kings almost made up for all their disadvantages in a 4-2 loss to the Edmonton Oilers in Game 2 on Wednesday that tied their series at 1-1.

April 19, 2023

The Kings have been credited with a total of nine shots on goal in the first period of the first two games and couldn’t get one past Edmonton rookie goaltender Stuart Skinner. In Game 2, they didn’t manage to get a shot on goal until just over two minutes remained in the first period and by then, the Oilers had taken a 2-0 lead.

The Kings pulled even in the second period but couldn’t respond in the third after Klim Kostin put the Oilers ahead for good. A better start on Wednesday might have made the difference between pulling off a stunning sweep of the first two games and the split they got.

“There are some things that have to be done early in a game and we’re playing against what needs to be done,” Kings coach Todd McLellan said. “We’re making things a little more difficult for ourselves.”

Nothing less than a complete effort will be good enough for the Kings on Friday, when what’s now a best-of-five series resumes at Arena. The Kings expect a lot of noise, energy and passion from their fans. “Can’t wait to see the barn go crazy,” Alex Iafallo said.


In return, the Kings owe their supporters a display of consistent energy and passion — and their best first-period performance in the series.

Kings' Blake Lizotte and Edmonton Oilers' Vincent Desharnais vie for the puck.
Kings’ Blake Lizotte (46) and Edmonton Oilers’ Vincent Desharnais (73) vie for the puck during the first period of Game 2 of a Stanley Cup first-round playoff series on Wednesday in Edmonton, Canada.
(Jason Franson / Associated Press)

“Crypto will be, I’m sure, very buzzing. It’s nice to have the fans back on your side after playing two tough games over there,” said Doughty, who will make his first home playoff appearance since 2018 after having missed last year’s series against Edmonton while recovering from wrist surgery.

“So we’re super excited, and we’ve got to play better in front of them.”

The Kings held a meeting instead of practicing after they returned from Edmonton on Thursday afternoon. Players who were scratched from the Game 2 lineup skated together, a group composed of Sean Walker, Zack MacEwen, Jarret Anderson-Dolan, Alex Laferriere, Pheonix Copley and emergency backup goaltender David Hrenak.

So where, you ask, was Kevin Fiala? Good question.

Fiala, who last played on April 1 but has never been classified as day to day or week to week, didn’t go to Edmonton and hasn’t resumed skating with the team, a necessary step before he can receive medical clearance and be considered an option. He’d likely have to follow the same path Gabe Vilardi took before returning in Game 2, which means Fiala would have to skate on his own and progress to participating in a practice and/or a morning skate before he’d play. That timetable makes it unlikely Fiala will play in Game 3, but he might be back on Sunday in Game 4.

The Kings have sharply felt his absence on the power play. Fiala ranked fourth on the team in power-play points this season with 24, off seven power-play goals and 17 power-play assists. The Kings are two for 10 against the Oilers on the power play in the series and have had an advantage for a whopping 16 minutes and six seconds. The Oilers have had 3:56 of power-play time but they’re two for four.


A look at the process of changing over Arena for Lakers, Clippers and Kings home games during the 2023 playoffs.

April 19, 2023

The Kings scored twice with a man advantage in the opener but fizzled in four chances in Game 2, including two advantages they gained through penalties called against Leon Draisaitl. Those were the only instances the Kings could be sure he wouldn’t destroy them. Draisaitl, who was second to teammate Connor McDavid in the regular-season scoring race, has collected three goals and five points. McDavid has one assist.

“I think we just need to execute a little bit better,” Doughty said of the Kings’ power play unit. “I can remember a few easy passes that the puck rolled and stuff like that. We’ve just got to be a little sharper, move the puck faster, try to get more shots.”

That will help. But so will stronger starts. “It’s not a concern, but we need to fix it now,” center Phillip Danault said after Game 2. “It’s not too late. It’s never too late.” Unless a few more tentative beginnings lead to an early end to their season.