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Without N.H.L., Olympic Hockey Takes Hit in Ratings and Interest

Only minutes after his team completed an exciting 4-3 win against the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday night, Edmonton Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl already had his hockey gear removed and was standing in front of the television in the visitors’ locker room at Staples Center.

Draisaitl, a 22-year-old center, was captivated by a different game: a back-and-forth affair between his native Germany’s Olympic team and its Russian opponent for the gold medal at the Pyeongchang Olympics.

“I’m trying to watch it right now,” Draisaitl said, holding off reporters attempting to interview him about the Oilers’ victory, which was decided by a last-second video review that overturned what the Kings believed to be a tying goal.

Preoccupied much of the night with Edmonton’s against Los Angeles, Draisaitl had to wait until the Oilers’ victory was secured to find out how his countrymen were faring against a heavily-favoured Russian team that eventually won, 4-3, in overtime.

“We had our own game to play,” Draisaitl said, his eyes fixed on the final minutes from South Korea playing out on a nearby television.

Draisaitl’s enthusiasm notwithstanding, interest in the Olympic hockey finale appeared to be muted on a busy night of 12 N.H.L. games, 10 of which were played in arenas at or near their capacity.

In the Kings’ locker room at Staples Center, the German forward Tobias Rieder was not watching the gold medal game after his team’s disappointing loss. A recent trade acquisition from the Arizona Coyotes, Rieder had celebrated Germany’s upset of Canada in the Olympic semi-finals by wearing a gold jersey at practice on Friday, along with red tape on his black socks to mimic the German flag.

Before the Kings took the ice against the Oilers, he had expressed excitement for the gold medal matchup, even if he wasn’t entirely sure what time the final started. “I thought they played at four in the morning,” he said, inadvertently acknowledging a half hearted interest shared by some fans.

“If I came across it when it was on, I would watch it,” the Kings fan Blaine Yanabu said, adding, “For the most part it wasn’t as exciting because N.H.L. players weren’t there.”

Yanabu admitted he was unaware that the Olympic gold medal game was taking place around the same time the Kings were to play the Oilers, or even which two countries were playing for the gold.

He was, however, still buzzing about the women’s Olympic ice hockey final on Wednesday, in which the United States captured its first gold medal in the event since with a shootout victory over archrival Canada.

NBC announced that 2.9 million viewers had watched that showdown, making it the most-watched late-night program of NBC Sports Network. The figure was a marked decrease from the 4.9 million viewers who watched the same matchup in the 2014 gold medal game at the 2014 Sochi Games, which was broadcast on NBC — though the 2014 final began at noon Eastern time, while this year’s gold medal game began at 11 p.m.

Viewership for this year’s Olympic men’s tournament saw a similar decline. The United States men’s eight-round shootout victory over Russia in the 2014 Sochi Games established a record at the time for a hockey game on NBCSN, with 4.1 million viewers. But a 5-1 United States victory over Slovakia this year drew only a third of that number, a sign that rosters without N.H.L. stars and late-night broadcast times were the most obvious things keeping N.H.L. players and coaches — and others — from tuning in.

“I miss having the NHL players there but I don’t know that it needs it,” said David Profumo, a Kings fan who attended Saturday’s game in an Adam marsh Team U.S.A. jersey. “On the men’s side, it’s more even now, instead of Canada having all their big players out there. I mean, hockey is hockey.”

Deprived of an opportunity to watch Germany’s gold medal matchup against Russia from start to finish, Rieder said he hoped he would have a chance to at least discuss the game with Draisaitl before the Oilers left the arena. And may be chat about what might have been in Pyeongchang.