The Battle of Alberta used to be something else, but decades of decline in the on-ice product (in both cities) left the rivalry in ashes. Low moments and constant nadirs brought diamonds by the dozen to our part of the world, and tonight these two teams—stacked with brilliant, youthful talent—are actually playing for something important.
THE OILERS DIAMONDS
For Oilers fans, this season (so far) has been a lot about excitement—when the McDavid and Hall lines are on the ice—and chaos—when the Lander and Letestu lines are out there. In the Montreal game, Todd McLellan’s solution was to play the hell out of the top two lines:
- Ryan Nugent-Hopkins 25:14 (43% FO)
- Connor McDavid 20:19 (29% FO)
- Mark Letestu 10:05 (86% FO)
- Anton Lander 8:08 (100% FO)
With the game on the line, McLellan shortens the bench and uses Lander/Letestu as faceoff men and penalty killers. It’s a solid deployment of the roster, as those two centers are making a big difference when the game is on the line. Remember when the Oilers had Horcoff at center and then three cardboard cutouts down the middle? This new world Oilers is fantastic.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) October 30, 2015
One of the cool things about this team after the summer of Luck? They are getting the love! Why, just last night on the Flames broadcast there was one positive mention about the team. If the Oilers roll over Calgary tonight, maybe someone will say another positive thing! Dangle’s item above is fabulous if you haven’t seen it.
DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN
The game against the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday night reminded me of the early days of the Boys on the Bus. That team would often fall behind a veteran, checking team with good to great goaltending and then roar back for a heart attack ending. I think we’ll see more of these kinds of games, as young teams seem to be more susceptible to changes in momentum (alert: NO fancy stat evidence). Back in the day, we’d say teams were ‘too young to know any better’ and maybe that’s part of it too. I suspect it has a lot to do with a certain 18 year old.
One cautionary note: We can quote chapter and verse about Calgary’s back-to-back and three in four and five in seven (games), but the Oilers have to be tight on defense and solid in goal this evening. The Flames are playing for their season—the Bettman point is crushing to a team with an awful start—but the Oilers have a lot on the line, too. They CAN dig out from that 0-4 start (team is 4-3 since their poor beginning) with a win tonight and another on Tuesday. Miles to go.
CGY loses to MTL. Oilers can pretty much knock Flames out of playoff race tomorrow. CGY loss means they’d need 90 pts in final 70 games.
— Jason Gregor (@JasonGregor) October 31, 2015
- When an NHL team reaches down to their farm team for help, the expectations are usually small. Not so in the case of Darnell Nurse and Leon Draisaitl, and credit to these young men, they’ve delivered. If they can sustain a high level of performance, they may never see Bakersfield again (although it’s early days and predicting that would be folly).
- Among the kids still on the farm, none are at the level of Leon and Darnell. That said, Laruent Brossoit, David Musil, Jordan Oesterle, Bogdan Yakimov, Jujhar Khaira, Braden Christoffer and others are having an impact in the AHL, and some of those young men will see the NHL this season. The Condors have something to give the big club this year.
- When Jordan Eberle comes back, I wonder if Todd McLellan will try running three ‘pairs’ up front. McDavid—Yak, Nuge—Eberle and Hall—Leon might be fun! Of course, one also wonders if the coach can resist running McDavid—Eberle for a time to see if there’s magic.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
Cam Talbot gets the start for the home side. He’s 3-5-0 with a 2.6.3 goals against average and a .904 save percentage. The Oilers are presently without Jordan Eberle, Matt Hendricks, Griffin Reinhart, Justin Schultz and Rob Klinkhammer. And despite this – and despite dressing seven defenders last game – they just keep plugging along. I’ll give this to the Oilers: they’ve been fairly consistent, and the recent additions of Darnell Nurse and Leon Draisaitl has given them a jump to their step.
Are the Oilers deep? Can they roll four lines? Nope. And their defensive group is full of question marks. But their top six forwards are talented and able to bury chances, and now they’re feeling confident after a really great effort against Montreal on Thursday.
I’d say keep an eye on Connor McDavid, but c’mon, after his performance in Calgary two weeks ago, just try to keep your eyes off of him. He’s a special, special player, and he’s only getting better as he becomes more accustomed to the NHL game. The kid’s basically a computer, in that he’ll observe things early in games and then use them in the attack later on. Against Calgary? He tested the defensive group from the outside in the first, and then used his observations of tendencies late in the game. Impressive stuff from #97.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: Oilers start strong and punish Calgary 2-0 in the first period. Lazy coverage and penalty trouble get the Flames back 2-2 in the second and they take a 3-2 lead early in the third. A late flurry gets this to overtime and Edmonton wins on an RNH goal.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: The kids dazzle on both sides, as we see a splendid future in both NHL cities.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Both goalies struggle, but the postgame shows go in depth on the growing G problem in Calgary.
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