As L.A. Kings come up empty against Oilers in Game 4, the future is bleak

LOS ANGELES — When the Los Angeles Kings needed to flush another blowout by the Edmonton Oilers and respond with their best game of the series, they did precisely that in Game 4.

When the Kings needed to get tough against Connor McDavid and push back against Leon Draisaitl and Zach Hyman, they did exactly that. When they needed to play an air-tight defensive game without losing their discipline, they did it in droves.

And it did not matter. And what is patently apparent in the bigger picture is that it does not matter.

When the Kings needed a goal, they did not get one, and a 1-0 loss now has them on the brink of elimination as they head back up to Edmonton for Game 5 and a raucous Rogers Place looking for a celebration. An uphill battle from the end of Game 1 — and, if we’re being real about this, from the first puck drop as a decided underdog — has now become a mountainous climb.

It can’t be a good feeling to put forth what will probably be your best showing and ultimately fall short.

“We put everything we had into that game,” Kings left wing Trevor Moore said. “But that’s the playoffs. It is what it is. It’s just about how you can rebound and how you can replicate it. We feel good about that effort and we’re just going to keep pushing.”

Can you really replicate an effort in which you held a team with McDavid and Draisaitl to 13 shots on goal? Where you could gamble with a goalie change without it being an issue because of the sound play in front of him? Where you held Hyman, the series goal leader, to one shot? Where you took only one penalty, dominated play territorially and put 33 shots on Edmonton goalie Stuart Skinner?



How the Oilers overcame hard-charging Kings to win Game 4: 5 takeaways

The Kings don’t have enough — a grim conclusion to reach considering they took a chunk out of last year’s team, which lost in six games to the Oilers, and now know it’s going to take a monstrous effort Wednesday to reach that far.

They’re saying what needs to be said at this time. Moore mentioned that Cam Talbot brought up the time his team faced a 3-1 deficit in the past, likely a reference to how Minnesota came back in 2021 against Vegas to force a Game 7. Drew Doughty, Anze Kopitar and Trevor Lewis can instantly recall what it was like to dig out of a 3-0 hole and beat San Jose in 2014.

That was a decade ago, though. It’s also the last time the Kings won a playoff series and there’s no point making a comparison with those Stanley Cup champions. But they’re going to drum up any resolve they can muster.

“You’re not out of it,” Moore said. “You just got to win the next game and then you’re coming back home. That’s our focus.”

The cold fact is Doughty, Kopitar and Lewis are 10 years older and there are no indomitable playoff forces around like Dustin Brown or Jonathan Quick or a ‘That 70s Line’ or a whole host of support players who could step up with their own big moments. They’re getting next to nothing out of their big-money plays for PL Dubois and Kevin Fiala who were supposed to lift this group out of the first round.

Dubois spent Game 4 shuttling between the third and fourth lines, another indictment of a disastrous trade by general manager Rob Blake. Fiala hustles and tries, which you can’t ever question, but he came up empty and has only three goals across 20 games in his last four playoff series. The pair has just two goals and no assists.



The clock is ticking on PL Dubois to make an impact for the L.A. Kings

Emptiness wasn’t limited to them. The Kings sent players to the net and tried to take away Skinner’s vision, but the Oilers goaltender did well to find pucks and stopped everything that came his way, earning his first shutout. The supposed weak link kept Los Angeles to one goal in both road games.

You would think a game that included only two penalties would be one in which special teams had no bearing on it. Yet once again, it is the very thing that has killed the Kings in the series.

In the second period, Andreas Englund lost his stick and then was whistled for holding Edmonton’s Ryan McLeod. It was the only power play the Oilers had, a victory in theory. Except the Kings’ power play, ranked second in the league during the regular season, simply can’t stop it.

McDavid found Draisaitl with a seam pass and Draisaitl, with Vladislav Gavrikov coming his way to guard against a one-time shot, moved the puck with a quick touch pass to Evan Bouchard. Bouchard found the hole that Kings goalie David Rittich left, beating him with a low shot to the stick side. It became the Oilers’ eighth power-play goal in 15 chances.

Consequently, the Kings got their only man advantage midway through the third on a high stick by Edmonton’s Brett Kulak. Their 11th chance in the series was just as futile as every other one, with Viktor Arvidsson getting the only shot attempt which was blocked. As an assistant coach to Todd McLellan, Jim Hiller ran the power play. Now he’s got the full duties as head coach, and you wonder if that is having any kind of effect.

While the Kings had an overwhelming advantage on the shot clock, they had no chances you could call glorious. Their best came from Matt Roy in the second period, as he pushed a shot just wide following some chaos created by Arvidsson and Phillip Danault on a quality shift. Moore had a look in the third just before their power play but Skinner foiled him. “I was trying to go low blocker,” he said. “I just didn’t get it up enough. Just hit him honestly.”

Yeah, the Kings put a lot into this one. But when you think there is more than what is actually there? That’s an issue. The Kings were built to be a deep team that could balance the scales against the superstar-led Oilers. It’s becoming clear they’re not as deep as we were led to believe.

“We didn’t get the win,” Moore said. “Obviously frustrating. Frustrated with the result, not with the effort. This time of the year, I guess it doesn’t mean too much.”

Hiller played the goalie card by starting Rittich over Talbot and that didn’t burn him at all. Rittich didn’t have to make many saves with just a few key stops among them. Bouchard’s shot would have beaten many goalies. While Hiller didn’t address whether Rittich will get Game 5, the 31-year-old did nothing to hurt his case for another start.

“I thought he played well,” Hiller said. “The disappointing thing for him is no goalie’s going to win when we can’t score for him. He did his job. There’s no question. We had to score. We’re not questioning David at all. He came in and did what he had to do.”

Another inspired win in Edmonton like in Game 2 and a stirring comeback to win the series would be a hell of a story. Kings fans could hold that for a long time over the Oilers faithful looking at a Stanley Cup run this spring. But a loss Wednesday and a quick five-game exit would be the start of a new course for this franchise to address the organizational hierarchy.

The Kings are a slightly above-average team that can be pretty good on enough nights to play beyond the regular schedule. But they’re light-years away from being elite and are dangling above mediocrity. For now, they’ll just have to keep up the fight.

“It’s not long where we have to play again,” Hiller said. “You know the feeling. You as a player, the team in the room, the preparation, the effort, it’s right there. So, to summon that back up again, it’s not like we have to go and find it. It’s right there. … So, it should not be that difficult.”

That might be the easy part. The players and coaches can merely focus on a game they must win. The harder and very necessary thing looming over the Kings organization is a hard look at the years and many dollars spent constructing something that is going backward instead of forward.

(Photo: Ronald Martinez / Getty Images)

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