Are the Calgary Flames as bad as they’ve looked and the Edmonton Oilers as good as they’ve looked early this season? Likely not on either count, but it’s an interesting juxtaposition going into the latest edition of the Battle of Alberta tonight in the City of Cows.
What I know is this: if the Oilers, who face Calgary with a 2-1-1 record after a 3-1 win over Nashville, beat the 1-3-0 Flames, fan bases in both cities are likely to get carried away, as they tend to do.
So far, the Flames are headed in the wrong direction even faster than people expected. Despite a hot run at the end of last season, it’s pretty obvious the Flames are a team in decline. So, is this an early season hiccup or are the wheels coming off Jay Feaster’s outfit already?
The Oilers, meanwhile, have fans who predicted they’d contend for a playoff spot this season pumped. They’ve been better than expected early — very early — but an early buzz is better than no buzz at all.
It has me wondering about the pre-season contention by David Staples of The Journal that the Oilers could surpass the fading Flames in Western Conference standings this season, a contention he backed off on when I challenged him on it.
If the Oilers win tonight, it might be a whole lot closer than I thought it was going to be. That could be fun, even if we’re talking about two teams battling for non-playoff position scraps of credibility.
UPDATE: WHITNEY RETURNS
I got it confirmed at 10 a.m. that Ryan Whitney’s right ankle is good to go and he will be in the line-up tonight at the Saddledome. The Oilers morning skate is optional today so we’ll have to await word on what the defensive pairings for the game will be and who comes out..
— Hands up everybody who thought Nikolai Khabibulin would perform as well as he has through his first two starts this season — a 0.96 goals against average and a .957 saves percentage. Sure you did.
Yes, it’s very, very early and blah, blah, blah, but given how just about everybody I can think of wrote Khabibulin off, his performance after a tough first start in pre-season and through two games is impressive.
He’s obviously not content to hand over the starting job to Devan Dubnyk and collect his salary sitting on the bench. If Khabibulin and Dubnyk can provide even average goaltending this season while tussling for the No. 1 job, the Oilers will finish a place or two better than most pegged them.
— Tom Gilbert gets way more love from the stats crowd than he does from old eye-ballers like me, but I’ve liked his game this season. He’s added a physical edge. He’ll never be a punishing hitter, but leaning on people and getting in the way as he has works just fine.
Still haven’t seen marked evidence of improvement on that muffin of a shot of Gilbert’s — he worked on it during the off-season — but No. 77 has been the best of the blue line early.
— Rookie Ryan Nugent-Hopkins didn’t score that third goal for the hat-trick in the loss to Vancouver. Yes he did. No he didn’t. Yes he did. No he didn’t. Whatever. He’s delivered way more than expected.
What I’m wondering is this: after scoring 31 goals with Red Deer last season while flanked by decidedly average wingers in Andrej Kudrna and Johan Persson, might RNH take a run at that total with the Oilers this season if Tom Renney keeps playing him with Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle?
— Cam Barker has been underwhelming so far. He’s a plodder who seems to have to slow everything down. I asked in pre-season if Barker would turn out be pocket lint or found money after Steve Tambellini took a chance on him this off-season.
So far, he looks more like the former. Does he get a seat in favour of Whitney tonight?
— To my eye, Anton Lander and Lennart Petrell have been only OK in the games they’ve played. They look to me like the prime candidates for a ticket to OKC when Sam Gagner is ready to roll, which will likely be by the time the Wild roll into town for a game Thursday.
— Is Theo Peckham in game shape?
— Ryan Smyth’s bobble-head needs more mullet.
— I’m wondering what prompted the Oilers to relieve Allan Watt, the vice-president of communications and broadcast, and Brad MacGregor, vice-president of sales in corporate partnerships, of their duties Monday.
— Former Oilers assistant GM Scott Howson has to be feeling the heat in Columbus thanks to a slow start and a swollen payroll. Now, Jeff Carter is out with a fractured foot. Might Howson give up a defenseman for one of Edmonton’s extra forwards, say Linus Omark?
— Let’s get that dangling oil derrick fixed or, preferably, removed before the puck drops against Minnesota, shall we?
BY THE NUMBERS
— Jarome Iginla is the biggest gun in the Battle of Alberta. In 82 career games against Edmonton, he’s scored 32-43-75.
— Whitney has played faced the Flames just eight times in his career, but he’s scored 0-7-7.
— Hall doesn’t have a point against the Flames. He was held off the sheet in the four games he played against Calgary last season.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.