(Wanye has instituted a new rule when it comes to BoA’s: winner of the last game gets to write the losers game day post. Naturally I readily agreed because it benefited my side of the conflict. So for those Oilers faithful wondering why a scummy Flames fan is penning your GDB, kindly refer all complaints to Mr. Wanye Gretz III esquire)
It’s probably not a surprise to most Edmonton fans that none of us down south have taken your club too seriously recently. And by recently, I of course mean for the better part of a decade. Darryl Sutter has become a figure of parody in Calgary since his descent into utter madness and subsequent firing, but his era as Flames coach/GM did feature at least one consistently positive aspect: beating up on the Oil.
Alas, the jolly rancher’s epoch is past and likely so have the days of the Flames smacking the Oilers around. While myself and the rest of the Calgary faithful have enjoyed more than a few belly laughs at the expense of ol’ Shelbyville over the last few seasons, it seems Edmonton may finally be edging out of the dark years and into a new dawn. The Flames, on the other hand, are only now becoming aware of the dark times they will soon face.
If asked, Im guessing most Flames fans would claim they’d prefer the Oilers remain mired in the league’s basement indefinitely; their unofficial logo the picture of a skate book stomping on a face, forever.
That is the official party line in the Battle of Alberta of course, but in their heart of hearts doubtless lurks the truth that a perpetually feckless opponent means a limp, punchless rivalry. And while we in Calgary will always gleefully wallow in schadenfreude whenever the Oilers are struggling, there’s no question the heat in what was once the most fierce rivalry in the NHL has been lacking for altogether too long. And we miss it. Beating the Oilers will always be fun. But it’s far more meaningful when there’s some pop behind their punches.
Perhaps this is the season the Battle of Alberta is finally renewed – where the two teams, on opposite trajectories, meet in the middle. With the Oilers stumbling exhausted from the edge of the woods and the Flames stumbling into them, perhaps now the two long-time enemies can meet each other on equal footing and engage in a hard fought, worthwhile battle. Even if it’s only for a brief period and even if it’s only for a playoff berth rather than a Western Conference crown, it may be enough to turn Alberta back into the NHL’s war zone.
Injuries to some vets and a new will to test the unknown means the Flames will feature a lot of unfamiliar faces this evening. Rookies TJ Brodie, Derek Smith and Joe Piskula will patrol the blueline in lieu of Mark Giordano (hurt), Anton Babchuk (hurt and not very good) and Cory Sarich (simply not very good). Brodie is the guy to watch out for – slick skating and smooth with the puck, he’s been excellent in the last week or so.
Up front, 20-year old center Roman Horak continues to make Calgary forget about the Tim Erixon fiasco and new-comer Blake Comeau will try to extend his season-high one game scoring streak to two. The re-configured first line features Curtis Glencross (thanks for him, by the way) and a slowing Jarome Iginla centered by the grotesquely carved, pumpkin-headed visage of Olli Jokinen. And while he will forever and always remain the butt of jokes, cruel nickname contests and photoshop threads, Jokinen is no longer a lightning rod for criticism in Calgary.
The former 90-point getter is certainly not the mythical "first line center" which the Flames have searched fruitlessly for over the years and his game remains flawed in a couple of non-trivial ways. However, he’s entirely less erratic in the defensive zone these days and his coupling with Glencross has been a fruitful one for the club. It’s not a first line that strikes fear into the hearts of men, but it’s functional enough as things go.
There are some reasons to be skeptical of the Oilers start to the year, not least of which is Khabibulin’s uncanny renaissance (which I assume will end any day now). That said, it’s also obvious Edmonton is a legitimately better club this year. Unfortunately, I have found myself actually enjoying an Oilers game here and there; and not because they were getting their asses handed to them – no, some of the kids are fun to watch and not even the cognitive dissonance or will to ignore it on the part of this Flames fan is enough to overcome that dreadful realization.
I have found myself endlessly impressed with Jordan Eberle since he broke into the league, but RNH is the guy who draws my eye most often this year. The kid doesn’t have to shave and is as soft-spoken as a wallflower at the junior high dance, but there’s no denying his ability to handle the puck and slip in-and-out of coverage. I don’t really think he’ll continue on his PPG pace for the rest of the year, but that’s not much of a criticism at this point. You’ve got some keepers Oilers fans. Damn you.
Don’t let this unprecedented flattery of your club go to your heads though. Let’s just remember that Edmonton has been the worst team in the league for two years running, your former GM tried to sign Vanek to a forever contract worth eleventy-billion dollars and Chris Pronger hoofed it out of town on the heels of a Stanley Cup finals appearance because, well…it’s Edmonton.
Happy Live Chat Fun Times!
The window above means it’s live chat time. Drop by and be prepared to hurl insults at the other fanbase all night. Also, I’m going to need a few moderators of the Edmonton persuasion to handle the OilersNation unruly mob, so if you’re down for that completely thankless, voluntary task, let me know in the comments or during the chat itself.
Ciao and happy trolling.