Oilers Ice Chips: Penalty kill to blame for recent struggles
The Edmonton Oilers went into the league's Christmas break riding their longest winning streak of the season. Any momentum that may have generated disappeared as 2017 wound down.
With the holidays in the rearview mirror and a new year under way, the Oilers will try to avoid their second four-game skid of the season when they meet the Los Angeles Kings for the first time this season on Tuesday night.
Edmonton won four straight from Dec. 16-23, including three in a row at home to climb back to .500 before the NHL's three-day holiday hiatus.
Coming out of the break, the Oilers sandwiched losses to the Winnipeg Jets -- including Sunday's 5-0 setback at home -- around an overtime defeat to the Chicago Blackhawks.
"We know what made us successful to get us back to .500. Going into the break, we were very detail-oriented," Oilers defenseman Darnell Nurse said.
Center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (team-high 15 goals) believes Edmonton's latest downturn is temporary.
"We've been pretty good at staying positive," he said Monday. "It's just a matter of regrouping and finding our rhythm after these last three."
Nugent-Hopkins had three goals and two assists in five games versus Los Angeles last season.
Edmonton, which begins play tied with the Vancouver Canucks for 13th in the Western Conference, is 8-11-1 at home after going 25-12-4 there in 2016-17. The Oilers posted wins after each of their three previous shutout losses.
Edmonton won three of five from Los Angeles in last season's series -- all at home -- with Cam Talbot turning away 97 of 99 shots in the victories.
After setting career bests with 42 wins, a 2.39 goals-against average and seven shutouts in 2016-17, Talbot regressed over the first three months this season, posting a 14-12-2 record with a 3.01 GAA and one shutout.
Backup Laurent Brossoit (3-7-1, 3.22 GAA, .886 save percentage) has not played since a 4-0 loss at home to the Nashville Predators on Dec. 14. He gave up five goals in a 6-4 loss to the Kings on March 26, 2016.
Connor McDavid (team highs with 31 assists and 45 points this season) had a goal and three assists, while Leon Draisaitl notched six helpers versus Los Angeles in 2016-17.
Kings coach John Stevens is not overlooking the Oilers despite their up-and-down season.
"They're coming off a real disappointing loss at home, so I think you're going to get probably their best game. I think they're going to come out really hungry with a team in their division," Stevens said Monday. "You're already talking about division games, but Edmonton, I think they're a good team. I haven't watched them enough to know why they've struggled, but I still think they're a really good team.
"They've got size, they've got some physicality in their lineup, they've got some high-end offensive players. They've got one of the best offensive players in the world, if not two or three of them.
Los Angeles (23-11-5) returns to the ice in second place in the Pacific Division, three points behind the expansion Vegas Golden Knights, who have two games in hand.
The Kings avoided their second three-game skid in December with a 4-3 win over the Canucks on Saturday. Kyle Clifford and Drew Doughty scored early in the third period to erase a one-goal deficit, and Jonathan Quick stopped 22 shots for his 18th win of the season.
"We always have resilience and we're the best third-period team in the whole league, if I'm not mistaken," Doughty said. "And we just don't give up. Doesn't matter if we're down, if we're up, we push for it. Yeah, we just never give up."
Los Angeles is one of five teams with four wins when trailing after two periods. The Florida Panthers lead the league with five victories.
With 29 points (seven goals, 22 assists), Doughty is one of four players tied for third in the league in scoring among defensemen with 29 points behind John Carlson of the Washington Capitals (31) and John Klingberg of the Dallas Stars (34).
Doughty, who's scored goals in each of his last two games, failed to register a point in Edmonton last season.
Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson were the only players to find the back of the net last season at Rogers Arena.
Toffoli is tied with Anze Kopitar for the team lead with 17 goals and is on pace for a career-best 48. The sixth-year winger had a goal and two assists in the win over Vancouver, and 11 points (four goals, seven assists) his last nine games versus the Oilers.
Pearson (six goals, 14 assists) has been held without a point in five straight games and has only one assist in his last eight overall.
While it's not immediately known who will start in goal Tuesday, the Kings have to like Quick's career numbers on the road against the Oilers.
The Connecticut native has never allowed more than two goals in a game in Edmonton during his career. In 15 career starts, Quick is 10-2-3 with a 1.65 GAA and .943 save percentage.
Among goaltenders with at least 20 starts in 2017-18, Quick ranks third in goals-against average (2.27) and save percentage (.927).