EDMONTON, Alberta -- The Los Angeles Kings are nearing the end of an era, while the Edmonton Oilers look to be on the fringe of a new one.
The Kings, winners of Stanley Cups in 2012 and 2014 and a perennial contender for much of the past decade, are currently below the playoff cut -- six points behind the Nashville Predators for the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference. If the Kings miss the playoffs, there certainly would be speculation that an aging team might need to get blown up -- that this group has reached the end of the line.
Meanwhile, the Oilers are well on their way to making the playoffs for the first time in a decade.
The teams meet in Edmonton on Monday.
The Kings have just 11 games left on the schedule; three of them are against the Oilers. So, how the Kings do against the Oilers will have a major bearing on if L.A. gets back to the post-season or not.
"I would think if I was in their situation, I'd be viewing the three games against us as probably their biggest games of the year," said Oilers center Mark Letestu. "And, I expect their level of desperation to be playoff-like, elimination playoff-game like. So, our level has to go up from what we played like against Vancouver. We did let the foot off the gas a bit and that crept in, and a team like L.A., they're going to be looking for that kind of stuff. Their desperation is going to be high, and we're going to have to be ready."
Letestu scored Saturday in a 2-0 win over the Canucks, a game in which the Oilers struggled to create chances after scoring 14 times in their previous two games, victories over Dallas and Boston. Still, a win is a win, and the Oilers are on a three-game victory streak.
Oilers coach Todd McLellan said that the Canucks' tight, defensive approach set his team up to play the Kings, another team that doesn't score a lot, but doesn't give up a lot. The have scored just 175 goals in 71 games, while giving up 179. In comparison, the Oilers have scored 207 times and given up 186 over 71 games.
McLellan said that the team's 7-1 win over Dallas and 7-4 triumph over Boston, "weren't as gritty and a grind-type game as Vancouver presented us." He doesn't expect the Kings to open up the game.
"I think that type of game sets us up for the game against L.A. a lot better than the free-flowing ones prior."
The Oilers don't have another Eastern Conference team on the schedule. Down the stretch, it's all about winning games against Western opponents.
"I like it that way," said Letestu. "We're going to be in our division, the intensity is going to be high, for us it's going to be dress rehearsals for the playoffs. Playing in the division against the big, heavy strong teams, with the big, heavy game that they play, that's going to be like Game 1. For us to get the opportunity to play those kinds of games before the playoffs start, that's really important for us."
The Kings are coming off a 5-2 loss at Calgary on Sunday, which only puts more pressure on Los Angeles going into Monday's date in Edmonton.
"There's no sense feeling sorry for ourselves," Kings center Anze Kopitar told Fox Sports' postgame show Sunday. "We've got to go out and get the two points, that's the bottom line. And, we've got to out there every night and get the two points. That's just the hole we're in and we certainly think we can climb out of it. But, it's going to take every single one of us to get the two points tomorrow."
Kopitar got just his 10th goal of the season Sunday, a low return for a player counted on to get at least 20, and sometimes 30, a season.
At the trade deadline, Los Angeles made a splash by acquiring 39-year-old veteran Jarome Iginla, who has three goals and an assist in eight games since joining the Kings. Iginla has 622 career goals, and a trip through Alberta is still special for him. He spent most of his career with the Flames, and he got an assist Sunday. He hails from the Edmonton suburb of St. Albert, so he'll have another homecoming Monday.
"It's refreshing to see... those players, seeing them with their families," said Kings coach Darryl Sutter. "Same thing with Jarome now. Nice to see him play meaningful games at this stage of his career."
But, if the Kings don't start winning, those games aren't going to be meaningful for much longer.