How the Oilers dominated Game 1 vs. the Kings: 5 takeaways

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How the Oilers dominated Game 1 vs. the Kings: 5 takeaways

EDMONTON, Alberta — Zach Hyman recorded a hat trick as the Edmonton Oilers got off to a great start in their Stanley Cup quest by defeating the Los Angeles Kings 7-4 in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series on Monday.

The win broke a seven-game losing streak for the Oilers in the first game of a series, dating to their second-round matchup with the Anaheim Ducks in 2017. Included in that stretch were losses to the Kings to begin their last two opening-round series — in 2022 and 2023 — in which the Oilers rebounded to advance.

The Oilers were pretty much in complete control on Monday, from the moment that Hyman scored 6:52 in, making amends for hitting a post on a sharp-angle, open-net chance a few minutes earlier. Hyman’s goal was set up by some wizardry from Connor McDavid, who pulled off a spin-o-rama to elude Kings defenseman Mikey Anderson before passing off to his linemate.

They were off to the races from there. Hyman recorded three goals and an assist, and McDavid had five assists — one more than defenseman Evan Bouchard.

Oilers’ first line shines

Hyman’s opening goal was just the beginning for the Oilers’ top trio. They dominated this game.

Less than three minutes after Hyman made it 1-0, he found winger Adam Henrique with a cross-ice pass and Henrique wired a shot past former Oilers netminder Cam Talbot to the high blocker side.

McDavid then gifted Hyman a glorious chance, which he cashed in for his second marker of the game at 4:50 of the second period.

Hyman led the way with three points at five-on-five. Henrique had a goal and an assist. McDavid had two assists in that situation.

All three of the top line’s goals at even strength were scored against Kings forwards Phillip Danault, Trevor Moore and Viktor Arvidsson — a matchup that Kings coach Jim Hiller wanted. That was clearly fine by his counterpart Kris Knoblauch, a bench boss who doesn’t tend to get too concerned about matchups.

Based on how Monday went, Knoblauch will gladly let those two trios duke it out again.

Skinner calms the waters

It seems like the first criticism of the Oilers when it comes to their evaluating them as a Cup contender is goaltender Stuart Skinner. That’s perhaps fair.

After all, Skinner had a rough first playoff run a year ago. He went 5-6 with an .883 save percentage and was pulled four times in 12 starts. Not good.

Like the Oilers, Skinner’s start to the season wasn’t much better. In fact, it was worse. He had an .865 save percentage through his first 13 appearances.

But after shutting out the Washington Capitals on Nov. 24, the sophomore goalie played like a Vezina Trophy candidate for the last four months. He had a .916 save percentage over his last 46 appearances and saved 14.8 goals above average in all situations, per Natural Stat Trick, fifth in the league.

Skinner didn’t have to be excellent in Game 1. He just had to be steady. He sure was that by turning aside 33 of 37 shots sent his way.

Sure, the Kings scored four goals against him. However, it’s hard to pin any of them on Skinner.

Anderson beat him through a screen. Two pucks, off the sticks of Adrian Kempe and PL Dubois, were banked in off Bouchard and fellow defensemen Darnell Nurse, respectively. Trevor Moore capitalized late after Cody Ceci’s stick broke.

Should Skinner have played better? Sure. But he and the Oilers should be pleased with that performance.

Talbot has disastrous first Kings playoff start

It was two seasons ago when Talbot lost the starting goalie job in Minnesota to Marc-Andre Fleury for the playoffs, so the 11-year veteran welcomed the confidence that Hiller showed in tabbing him for the Game 1 start following his successful first L.A. season.

But Rogers Place, where Oilers fans once cheered him in his career-best 2016-17 season, turned into a haunted house. Hyman put Edmonton on the board at 6:52 of the first and Adam Henrique followed with a clean snipe past him just 2:44 later for a 2-0 lead.

Both the Kings and Talbot operate best when they’re able to limit extra chances and the goalie makes the first save. In Game 1, the Oilers peppered L.A. in the offensive end, and Talbot isn’t one to steal games — especially at this stage of his career. The sellout crowd joined in with their own shots, repeatedly throwing loud, derisive “Tal-bot” chants toward the Kings’ net.

The six goals allowed on 44 shots tied the most allowed by Talbot over 32 playoff starts. Anaheim scored six times against him in Game 3 of a 2017 second-round series when he was with Edmonton.

Anderson exemplifies Kings’ rough night

The good thing about Mikey Anderson’s evening was that his slap-shot goal broke the ice for the Kings, when they were trailing 4-0, and sparked a small uprising in the second period. The bad thing was … just about everything that led up to the goal.

Anderson draws tough assignments on the Kings’ top defensive pairing with Drew Doughty. There’s no tougher assignment than facing Connor McDavid, and on the Oilers’ first goal, McDavid pulled a spin-o-rama move that left Anderson in the dust before he delivered a backhand pass to Zach Hyman, who continued his monster season by sliding the puck past Cam Talbot to start his huge night.

On another occasion, McDavid turned Anderson inside out with another breathtaking move while on the power play. And when Edmonton pushed its lead to 3-0 early in the second period, on Hyman’s second goal, it was Anderson who lost position on Henrique in the corners. Henrique got the puck to McDavid behind the net and Hyman worked himself into position to bury a pass from the superstar.

But also …

It wasn’t just Anderson who had a rough night. Doughty, who got tagged a couple times by Edmonton forecheckers, couldn’t get through bodies to McDavid in time to challenge him. Vladislav Gavrikov was powerless to stop a tap-in by Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on the power play.

Whether it was systemic breakdowns or defenders caught up ice, the Kings were fortunate that the Oilers didn’t bury more of the multiple odd-man rushes they generated, or the loss might have been by an even wider margin.

(Photo: Codie McLachlan / Getty Images)