In the 1980s and early 1990s, the Battle of Alberta was indeed a battle. The games were fast, quick, nasty and filled with as much anger and intensity as skill. They were must watch TV, at least the ones which were televised, and fans, players and media in both cities couldn’t wait until they faced off again.
The animosity was still alive through the mid-90s and into the early 2000s, but neither team had the skill to match the hatred. The games weren’t the same. It was rare both teams were competitive at the same time, and the BOA became less and less exciting. In recent years it became more of a pillow fight.
But the embers of the rivalry were always there, waiting to ignite, and finally, both clubs are competitive again.
For the first 11 years of the rivalry, 1981-1991, both teams made the playoffs every year and they faced off five times. But since 1991 they’ve only been in the postseason at the same time twice — in 2006 and 2016. The cities of Edmonton and Calgary have always had a healthy rivalry and respect off the ice, but the on-ice ferocity has waned, mainly due to them not being competitive at the same time.
We will never see the brawls and end-to-end action of the 1980s. The game was different back then, but the passion from both fanbases is as intense as ever, and the provincial hope of an April or May matchup is much closer to reality than a dream.
The dislike is starting to build and even the players feel it. The Oilers have elite skill in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, but they also have toughness with Milan Lucic, Patrick Maroon, Zack Kassian and Darnell Nurse.
The Flames top-end players don’t match up to McDavid, but Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and company are solid. Their blueline is one of the best in the league and they have agitators in Matthew Tkachuk, Michael Ferland and Garnet Hathaway who won’t back down.
The series matters again, and opening up the year against your rival, whom you expect to battle against for the division title, makes the already exciting season opener even better.
I wonder if a part of Todd McLellan’s decision to move Draisaitl to McDavid’s wing has to do with him wanting to get off to a good start against the Flames. If the Oilers were opening up against Las Vegas, Colorado or Vancouver, would have he have made the move? Draisaitl and McDavid were on fire down the stretch last season, with McDavid scoring 25 points in the final 14 games while Draisaitl produced 21. I completely understand why you’d reunite them with the hope your team hits the ground running.
The Oilers started the season 7-1, but then went 2-7-1 in their next ten and woke up on November 18th sitting at 9-8-1. The Flames started 7-10-1, but lost their first two games of the season to the Oilers.
If you take out the first two games, both teams went 7-8-1 in their next 16. If we erase the season series the Oilers were 43-26-9 in 78 games and the Flames were 45-30-3. The Oilers were only two points better, but they gained seven points on the Flames in their head-to-head matchup.
When both teams are competitive, the BOA not only becomes more exciting, it can have a major impact in the standings, especially if one team can dominate the head-to-head matchups.
It is only game one of 82, but it is an early opportunity to set the tone and get off to a good start. Both teams are hungry for a win and both have lots to prove.
The Flames want to show they can skate and compete with the Oilers, while the boys in Blue and Orange are out to prove last year wasn’t just an everything-went-right-for-us season.
The Oilers and Flames are relevant at the same time for the first time in over 25 seasons.
No more pillows fights. This series has meaning and should be a battle.
This was the expected opening night lineup, except Kailer Yamamoto makes his NHL debut and Anton Slepyshev is in Bakersfield for an unofficial one-game rehab stint.
The Oilers have seven players in tonight’s lineup who didn’t play on opening night last year when Edmonton defeated Calgary 7-4.
Ryan Strome, Jussi Jokinen, Jujhar Khaira, Drake Caggiula, Matt Benning, Eric Gryba and Yamamoto are in while Jordan Eberle, Benoit Pouliot, Tyler Pitlick, Brandon Davidson are gone, Jesse Puljujarvi and Slepyshev are in the AHL and Andrej Sekera is injured.
Jaromir Jagr is scheduled to arrive in Calgary today, but he won’t play tonight. The Flames have six new faces in the lineup from a year ago.
Travis Hamonic, Michael Stone and Brett Kulak replace Dennis Wideman, Nicklas Grossman and Deryk Engelland on defence. Tanner Glass and Garnet Hathaway are in at forward while Lance Bouma and Alex Chiasson are gone and Mike Smith starts in goal in place of Brian Elliott.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING…
The Oilers are a top-heavy group, with a very strong top six and then a bit of a drop-off. They’re also a group that utterly flummoxed the Flames last year, winning all four games – including a season-opening home and home series that seemed to kill the Flames dead in their tracks for a few weeks. The Flames will be preoccupied with Connor McDavid, but figuring out how to play against the entire Oilers forward group will be a fascinating storyline to watch; my worry is that the defense could give Edmonton’s forwards too much respect.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: The building will be electric. The home opener always is. Oilers and Flames combine for eight goals with the Oilers skating away with a 5-3 victory.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: The teams combine for 10+ powerplays. McDavid picks up two points.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: In his 13th season-opening game, Jokinen scores in his first game with the Oilers. He did score in his first game with Pittsburgh after being traded during the season, but this is the sixth team he’s opened the season with and he’s never scored in his first season-opening game with the previous five.
Source: Jason Gregor, Verified Twitter Account, 10/04/2017, 12:26pm MST