LA Live is a great arena complex and as such it's no surprise that the Grammy Awards and the NBA All-Star game will be hosted in the Staples Centre. However, with both events scheduled back-to-back at the Staples Centre, the Los Angeles Kings will be homeless for a organization record 10 games. Their visit to Rexall Place was the second game of the 10 game roadtrip.
The Kings also represent a chance for Edmonton Oilers' fans to once again see fan favourites in Ryan Smyth, Jarret Stoll and Matt Greene. That is old news already, but it's still something that many fans think of first when they hear the Kings are in town. More old news? Nikolai Khabibulin was to start in net for the Oilers. Winless and pointless in his last 11 starts, Khabibulin is riding his own streak, as tonight's loss makes it 12 in a row for Khabibulin, one short of the Bettman-era record, currently held by Antero Niittymaki according to resident historian Bruce McCurdy.
Even older news, the Oilers penalty kill continues to struggle, as does their power play. The special teams are not helping the Oilers win games at this point, but despite line juggling neither shows any real sign of future improvement. The best thing may be that the special teams can only get better from here.
The Oilers came out with guns blazing; outshooting Los Angeles 12-5 in the first period, a significant difference from what Edmonton fans normally see after long layoffs. The Oilers earned two power play opportunities during the first ten minutes, the first was courtesy of Justin Williams on a hooking call drawn by Ales Hemsky the second was on Jarret Stoll for tripping Shawn Horcoff. The Oilers were unable to score during either opportunity with the man advantage, but kept the pressure on King's goaltender Jonathan Quick. With just over five minutes left in the period, the Oilers had won 57% of the face-offs and had ten shots to the Kings one shot. Who were those guys and what have they done with the Oilers? It was a refreshing change of pace that makes it easier to enjoy Oilers hockey, made even more enjoyable when Taylor Hall ducked a hit by Drew Doughty. Doughty had some choice words for Hall and the on ice officials after the attempted hit on Hall resulted with Doughty crying uncle as Hall was able to speed up enough to squeak by and avoid the hit. Doughty however, ran into Hall's glove face-first and was very upset that there wasn't a penalty called.
The Oilers had a third and final power play opportunity when Dustin Brown was called for slashing Colin Fraser. Still, the Oilers couldn't score despite hitting the posts twice during the period. The lack of scoring should be credited to Quick for being solid in net and some luck from the iron behind him. By the end of the first period, the Oilers had won 55% of the face-offs, a rare feat this season.
The second period started off where the first left off - with the Oilers maintaining a quick pace and procession of the puck. The penalty calls however, did not resemble those in the first period at all. Theo Peckham was called for delay of game when he sent the puck up into the netting. The Oilers successfully killed the penalty and upon leaving the box Peckham had a great scoring opportunity but of course the puck was turned aside. Less than a minute later, Linus Omark, Sam Gagner and Magnus Paajarvi surged to the net and Paajarvi was the one to finally beat Quick to break the scoring drought.
While Oilers fans were still celebrating the Paajarvi goal, Dustin Penner took an elbowing call. The Oilers weren't able to kill this penalty. Five seconds into the penalty, Ryan Smyth tipped in the tying goal is traditional Smytty style. Nikolai Khabibulin really should have been expecting that and been able to stop it, but Khabibulin was too slow to react and too deep in his crease to make much of a difference. A short time later, Khabibulin managed to stop a tricky rolling puck by sprawling and with many thanks to his trusty goalpost, where the puck hung for what seemed like an enternity. The post made the initial save but Khabi did mange to clear the puck to a somewhat less precarious position.
Peckham took a second penalty on the period for holding, which inevitably put the Oilers down by a goal. Doughty fired off a rocket from the point that cleared through all players in front of the net and didn't even need Smyth to deflect. or did it? The goal was first credited to Doughty, but during the intermission the goal was changed to be recorded as another typical Smytty goal. Oilers fans were not surprised. Three power plays for the Oilers in the first with no goals, but three power plays for the Kings in the second and they manage two goals. It should be no surprise which team is more likely to see post season games.
By the end of the period, the Oilers had given up two goals and fallen to 44% face-off wins (cumulative through two) and had fallen even with the Kings for shots with ten for each team through the second period.
The third period saw the Oilers within one, not a surprise or different situation than Oilers fans are used to. Perhaps knowing that he might be next to be put on waivers with the return of the next healthy Oiler, Jean-Francois Jacques semi-faught Willie Mitchell and both players received roughing penalties. With the ensuing four-on-four play, Ladislav Smid, in an attempt to stop first Smyth, then Stoll as Smid got his arm up too high and dragged Stoll down from behind before he could release his shot. Though Jeff Petry was behind Stoll, the referee awarded a penalty shot. Without a crowd in front of him, Khabi was able to follow the puck and Stoll well enough to keep the score 2-1.
The score did change before the end of the night, but not in the Oilers favour. Another slap shot from the point was too much for Khabibulin to handle and Jack Johnson was credited the final goal. Ryan Smyth wasn't on the ice, so this goal can't be credited to him. Dustin Brown was in front of the net, but didn't appear to touch the puck before it soared past Khabibulin.
Doughty and Hall had not appeared to get along the entire game, so it was little surprise to all that Doughty took the final penalty of the night. The call? Tripping on Taylor Hall. Despite the extra attacker, the Oilers were unable to make this a one goal game.
Here we go, positives and takeaways from the game. At one point, the first period the Oilers were leading in shots 12-5 and face-off wins with 57%. Face-off win percentage did fall to 47% by the end of the night. Taylor Hall (50%), Shawn Horcoff (60%), Colin Fraser (63%), and Sam Gagner (67%) were all 50% or better so it was Andrew Cogliano (25%), Dustin Penner (20%), Ryan Jones (0%) and Liam Reddox (0%) who managed to bring the average down. Some players are getting better in the face-off circle and Horcoff being back in the line-up is taking some pressure away from other players.
The Oilers were able to tally 30 shots with 33 for the night and outshot the Kings who managed just 26, but those resulted in 3 goals.
The Oilers took 5 penalties, the Kings took 5 penalties. On top of those penalties were the coincidental minors to Jacques and Mitchell. The Oilers allowed 2 goals on the penalty kill, while the Kings had a perfect night on the penalty kill.
The Oilers started out well on this game, and there were a couple of Oilers that had a good game, not just a good period. Magnus Paajarvi was the media choice for the third star of the evening and I think he deserved that. Paajarvi scored the Oilers only goal and showed tenacity and speed. Taylor Hall had a fast paced offensive game, and stood up to Drew Doughty. From what Oilers fans have seen this year, this may be a rivalry that continues in the years to come. Ladislav Smid had four shots on net and was a physical presence (attempted) against some of his former team-mates. Khabibulin did not have a good game, he simply wasn't enough to match Quick on the other end of the rink and he wasn't enough to keep the Oilers in the game.
Ryan Smyth did not score a hat-trick, making his two goals slightly easier to swallow.
Ales Hemsky played the entire game, and so must be ready to return to playing. Hopefully Hemsky has seen the last of his injured time for the season.
Theo Peckham is playing with a competitive edge, but taking penalties tends to lead to Oilers losses. Peckham was unlucky with the delay of game penalty, but the holding penalty could have been avoided. Adding Jacques to the PK doesn't appear to be working, but this was only one game. The two goals allowed on the PK were the difference makers in this game. Allowing the goals not only put the team behind on the scoreboard, but it also seemed to unhinge the players. It's a broken record, but the Oilers have to find a way to be successful on the penalty kill or it won't get any easier going forward.
If the Oilers hope to do better on Friday against St. Louis, they need to keep up their shots, stay out of the penalty box and win more face-offs.