Kings vs. Oilers Game 7 thoughts from an NHL assistant coach: Who has the edge?

You’ve heard plenty from the Kings and the Edmonton Oilers through six games (one requiring overtime) and off-day availabilities. The teams have spent plenty of hours in the air, jetting back and forth — and the Oilers even had one bus ride to get across the border.

It all comes down to Game 7, Saturday night in Edmonton. The Oilers were a close favorite going into their first-round series with the Kings. In The Athletic’s survey of an executive, a scout and a coach before the playoffs started, all three picked Edmonton. The scout did win seven games with the Oilers.

We reached out to an assistant coach from the NHL to get his honest impressions of the series on the day before Game 7. He had plenty to say about the first six matches and the implications of Game 7.

First, how much has Viktor Arvidsson cost the Kings?

I think more than any of them will admit. You’ve got a guy that’s a legitimate 30-goal scorer and he’s an opportunistic type of guy. And when you don’t have that guy in your top six, somebody has to go into that role, and it changes everything.

It’s a big big hole to fill. It changes their power-play structure. It changes their line combinations. It changes players’ minutes. It does have a trickle down effect.

If anything, it’s given (Carl) Grundstrom a chance to step up and shine. He’s scored some big goals for them. Maybe he wouldn’t be playing as much or maybe he’s not even in the lineup. So, it’s a tough thing that they don’t have (Arvidsson) but that’s the way the playoffs go. When they’re usually tight-lipped, it’s something significant. I think it’s a huge loss for them.

In the series, four of the Kings’ defenseman made their NHL playoff debuts against the Oilers. How do you think this young defense team has responded to the pressure so far

I’ve always liked Sean Durzi. To be honest with you, he’s exceeded my expectations. You could see him make a play out of nothing in Ontario — he can make a cross-seam pass, tape to tape, to a guy for a one-timer. He makes people look bad. He plays.

My concern was that he wasn’t going to be able … he’s not a great skater. But it hasn’t seemed to have affected him. The fact is he’s been able to orchestrate his magic on the power play. Maybe that’s because of (Sean) Walker’s absence and when (Matt) Roy was out and in (Drew) Doughty’s absence — he might not have gotten that opportunity. So he’s making the most of it.

They’re all going out there — nothing is expected of them. So they’re not feeling any kind of pressure, right? “Nobody thinks we match up. We’re missing Doughty.”

It’s taken a little bit of that pressure off them. The fact that, going into it, the Kings weren’t the favorite, it’s easier to play in the first round like that when you’re the underdog. And I think it’s easier when you open up on the road. It’s helped those young guys to get acclimated.

The forwards have done a great job in helping to insulate these guys. They’ve been doing a good job of coming back, supporting and doing a good job getting available for them. It’s more of a team concept they’ve got going, and, well (Jonathan) Quick has been pretty darn good when he needs to be. It looks a lot like the Quick of yesteryear.

The forwards are coming back, you say. That’s where Anze Kopitar is doing the heavy lifting. Do you think this part of his game is overlooked?

It seems like he’s been taking a lot of grief. But with (Phillip) Danault there, he didn’t have to be relied on to do everything. You talk to our players after games and it’s like, “Holy smokes, Kopitar.”

Again, he might not have hit the scoresheet but it’s what he does to you — with faceoffs or just leaning on you, puck protection. He hasn’t lost that at all. They can say he’s slowed down a step or two. This is a sign that a guy has become a little more cerebral. They learn. “maybe I can’t catch this guy, but I can take this angle and I’m doing just as an effective job.” That’s Kopitar for you.

Let’s move on to Mikey Anderson. Some of us were joking that he’s “Minnesota Nice”With a little bit of snarl. He was a fast and effective shutdown defenseman.

That’s just through hard work on his part. He’s always been an intelligent kid. Now he’s playing with an edge and that’s made him more effective and harder to play against. At the start, he wasn’t very big and he wasn’t very strong. He comes out of college and it’s a whole different ballgame. Now you’re playing 82 games in the NHL. He can now fight against guys who might have been pushing him aside before.

I think now he’s enjoying the fact that he can irritate the opposition, get them off their game. You can be a irritable son of a pistol and (Zack Kassian isn’t coming in).

Evander Kane, the only guy that will, is the one he chooses. He (Kane) picks on guys that aren’t going to fight back. Also Durzi hasn’t shied away from a darn thing. Both Durzi and Anderson are showcasing their chests. They’ve got their chin out. They’re saying, “Hey I may not be the toughest guy. But as a team, we’re pretty tough.”

The Kings’ Mikey Anderson defends the Oilers’ Leon Draisaitl. (Gary A. Vasquez/USA Today)

Let’s close by asking you what your approach is when you face generational players such as Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and are unsure of their capabilities going into Game 7.

They (the Kings) have done a good job of containing them and that’s all you can do. As you stated, they can erupt at any moment. There’s really not much you can do about it. They’re just that good. McDavid can be assertive and aggressive, but you can also see him engaging in these activities. It’s kind of taking him away from his game. Draisaitl looked a little limp. He’s getting banged up.

Sometimes, not always, sometimes those guys have had enough and they don’t want to keep battling through it. And you hope that’s where you’ve got them. But you know what — that power play — it’s lethal. They could end up in serious trouble if they get into a fight with Edmonton.

OK, that wasn’t the very last topic. We already talked about Quick a little bit, but I’d like to hear your thoughts on Mike Smith.

I think (the Oilers’) biggest weakness is their goaltender and if the Kings can expose him, then that’s their best chance. There isn’t a lot of higher-danger (chances), but he  (Smith) likes to do too much with the puck once he’s made a save or even a dump in.

Is this the volume (shot) approach? There is nothing wrong with this approach. They will be able to create something new.

He is vulnerable to poor goals. If you keep firing pucks on him, he’s got to make the save, control the rebound or he’s going to try to handle it to make an outlet pass or whatever. Obviously, he’s a pretty good puckhandler for a goalie, but he really tries to do too much. I think he thinks more about — as the puck is coming — “where am I playing this next,”Instead of trying to stop it. To me, it’s always been, just make the save and we’ll worry about it after that.

(Photo: Codie McLachlan / Getty Images)

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