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The Oilers power play is elite. But so far, the penalty kill is doing heavy lifting

EDMONTON — The Edmonton Oilers power play is good — really good. But it might be their penalty-killing that will determine if they get past the Los Angeles Kings in the first round of the playoffs.

The Oilers power play is one of the scariest things in all of pro sports. In the regular season, it scored at a clip of once every three chances — a historic high. 

Leon Draisaitl scored 32 times on the power play this season, coming within two of Tim Kerr’s NHL record for man-advantage markers.

But the stereotype exists that referees put their whistles in their pockets come playoff time — power-play opportunities dry up as stuff that normally gets penalized during the regular season falls under the category of “letting them play” in the post-season.

That hasn’t been the case in this series so far. Through the first two games of the first round, the refs have been calling it tight. But, it’s the Kings getting the majority of the man advantages. 

Through two games, the Kings have gone to the power play 10 times, while the Oilers have had just four opportunities.

Cue the conspiracy theorists. 

But, the truth is simple: the Oilers need to clean up some of the penalties that have led to this series being tied 1-1. 

In Game 1, Evan Bouchard was in the box when the Kings tied the game with just 17 seconds left in the third. Then Vincent Desharnais was called for tripping, leading to Alex Iafallo’s Game 1 overtime winner. 

The call on Desharnais was cause for debate — was it a case of a broken stick on the ice or was it a trip? 

But other calls haven’t been disputable. In Game 2, there was a needless offensive zone hook from Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Leon Draisaitl slashed Kings centre Adrian Kempe during a faceoff scrum. These are the kind of things that can’t continue to happen in the playoffs.

Where the Oilers can take solace is that, in Game 2, they were a lot more efficient than the Kings. 

Los Angeles went to the power play four times, while the Oilers went up a man just once. Yet, the Oilers got a power-play goal from, who else, Draisaitl, while the Kings struggled to keep the puck in Edmonton’s zone on their four advantages — let alone get chances on goal.

“We’ve got to get some better looks and capitalize on our chances,” said Kings forward Philip Danault. “In the first 20 minutes, we had a power play or two and we didn’t get any shots. We know we’ve got to do better than that.”

“I thought our power play did its thing in its one opportunity,” said Oilers coach Jay Woodcroft after the Game 2 win. “We made them pay. There are things within our control and there are things not in our control. As a coach, I try to model to our players taking care of the things within your control.”

The Oilers will likely be without arguably the team’s top penalty killer Mattias Janmark, who missed Game 2, for the rest of the series. Still, so far so good defending against the man-advantage.

“I thought (the penalty-killing unit) did its job under some tough circumstances, with a little bit of a five-on-three there, as well.” said Woodcroft. “It gave us a chance to win. Not having Janmark dressed in tonight’s game opened up opportunities for others to step up into that role. I think the people who were used really stepped up.”

Central to that has been the play of Nick Bjugstad, acquired from the Coyotes at the trade deadline to give the Oilers a solid two-way centre. He will likely be the team’s top man on the PK as the series goes on. He won 10 of 13 faceoffs in Game 2, including some key draws when the Oilers were short-handed.

Draisaitl played a little more than 21 minutes in Game 2. Not only does he have five points in two playoff games, he’s also been asked to take on some of Janmark’s defensive duties.

“We’re going to miss Janny here for a little bit,” said Draisaitl. “He’s a really, really underrated, valuable player on our team who plays a lot of important minutes in important situations for us.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 20, 2023.

Steven Sandor, The Canadian Press