The last time The Battle of Alberta had any real teeth to it, back in the 1980s when the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames were good teams that hated each other, there was no such thing as social media. No Twitter or Facebook. No fans talking trash at each other on hockey blogs and websites like this one.
There was no real-time back-and-forth. Fans got a game story, a sidebar and a column in the newspaper the next morning chronicling the results. Today, with smartphones buzzing and website comments sections full of your-momma talk between fans in Edmonton and Calgary from before the opening face-off to the final buzzer, feedback is immediate and ongoing.
Oiler fans filing into the parking lot outside Rexall Place Saturday not only had to digest the swift kick in the nuts that was a 5-4 loss to the Flames on a fluke goal, if they didn’t shut their phones off or tuck them away they could read and hear about it over and over again before they even got to the car. The post-game niceties from Oilersnation are here.
It’s a different time to be sure, but with the Oilers and Flames trying to rekindle the BOA, Hockey 101 dictates some things haven’t changed since Wayne Gretzky and Neil Sheehy and Jim Peplinski and Mark Messier went at each other like there was no tomorrow. Teams can’t consistently fall behind, like the Oilers did Saturday, and expect to win. They can’t get lousy goaltending, like the Oilers got Saturday, and expect to win.
Get that these days and Oiler fans get to open the DM that starts with, “Coilers . . .”
YOU CAN’T DO THAT
Cam Talbot deservedly got a lot of heat for allowing Michael Frolik to complete his hat-trick and score the game-winner from the corner behind the goal line with just under nine seconds to play. That puck can’t go in. Can’t. Ever. Good that Talbot owned it. Doesn’t change the fact.
The Oilers got away with coughing up a 3-0 lead to the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday before storming back for a 4-3 win. Saturday, they spotted the Flames, who got thumped the night before by the Habs in Cowtown, two-goal leads on three occasions. This just in: not a game plan.
After nine straight years out of the playoffs, there’s hope, and rightfully so, there are better days ahead. The reasons for optimism we know. But even with more experienced hands at the helm with Todd McLellan and Peter Chiarelli and a brilliant kid named Connor McDavid draped in No. 97, you can’t win if the old bugaboos remain. They do.
Bad goaltending. Slow starts. Lapses in execution. Playing from behind. The Flames did the latter with some success last season, but it’s going to kill you more often than not over the long run. Nine seasons, going on 10, is a very long run. So you get what we got Saturday.
In many ways, this edition of the Oilers is better than any version of the team fans have seen in a long, long time – yes, the bar has been set low – even if issues remain and the results don’t yet reflect that. Better GM. Better head coach. Better player personnel. McDavid. McDavid. McDavid. After games like Saturday, that’s cold consolation.
Right here and right now, Oiler fans have every right to expect more than what they saw in the latest edition of the BOA, a record of 4-8-0 and DMs from their buddies in Cowtown that start with, “Coilers . . .”
HATS OFF TO GEORGES
- Talked to Georges Laraque this morning and he was absolutely overwhelmed by the ovation and reception he received from fans at Rexall Place yesterday. Time flies and it’s been a decade since Big Georges wore Edmonton silks, but fans here have long memories.
“I wasn’t expecting that,” he said. “So many people, some of them just kids when I was here, came up to me and said a lot of nice things. It felt good to know they had good memories about me and some of the things I tried to do in the community while I was here.”
Laraque was a tireless worker in the name of many charities – he sometimes took on too much – in this city, much of it done without fanfare and photo-ops. Hats off to the Oilers for bringing back players like Ryan Smyth and Laraque to take a bow. Classy stuff.
WHILE I’M AT IT
The Oilers overpaid for Andrej Sekera when they inked him to a six-year deal worth $33 million last off-season because that’s what teams often do with UFAs, but holy cow, if fans are complaining about the contract 12 games in, I can only imagine the noise in a year.
The hindsight card screams Jeff Petry, but even without playing that hand, if Sekera doesn’t settle in and get considerably better, his contract is going to make the one Andrew Ference signed when he came here look like a smoking deal.
- Leon Draisaitl needs to stay until he plays himself off the roster.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260.