The Calgary Flames are in a seven-team fight for four playoff spots.
The Flames are in 11th place, two points behind Colorado for the second wildcard, but with only two wins in their last eleven home games, they are limping to the finish line.
Edmonton has been out of the playoffs, unofficially, for over a month, and tonight their motivation will be to push Calgary one step closer to having an equally frustrating off-season as the Oilers.
If misery loves company, then an Oilers victory will make their plane ride back to Edmonton much more enjoyable.
In their past eleven games, the Flames have scored one goal five times and scored two goals twice. The injury to Mike Smith has hurt them, no question, but their offence at home has been shooting blanks too often.
The Oilers have jumped on the Flames with three goals in the first period in each of their last two visits to Calgary, and after struggling most of the season to score first the Oilers have been much better in that regard, scoring first in seven of their last ten games. The Oilers are 18-7-2 when they score first, while the Flames are 14-20-4 when they allow the first goal. Calgary is tied for the sixth most wins when allowing the first goal, and protecting leads hasn’t been the Oilers forte recently.
Scoring first definitely helps, but the Oilers have seen two-goal leads evaporate far too often in the past month, so they can’t get comfortable if they grab an early lead. They didn’t allow Minnesota back in the game on Saturday, and their last two games versus the Wild and Islanders have been two of their better overall defensive efforts of the season. We’ll see if they can continue that tonight in Calgary.
The Flames should be desperate. They are well aware of their place in the standings and with St. Louis gathering two massive wins in LA and Anaheim recently, the Flames need a win to keep pace in this very exciting Western Conference playoff race. It is a joke the Oilers aren’t in it. The organization, from management to coaches and players, should be extremely frustrated and embarrassed with their spot in the standings. Management can’t do anything to change it until the summer, but the players can play well down the stretch and finish strong.
“You want to finish strong personally and you want to finish strong as a team,” said Adam Larsson. “People forget sometimes how young this team is. We have some top guys, but they are still in their early twenties and they have some things to learn too. We do that as a group moving forward. We are still trying to develop and grow every game and practice and we have to use every game as an opportunity to improve,” continued Larsson.
I strongly disagree with the notion the NHL is easier to play in when your team is out of the playoffs and there is no pressure. There is always pressure. Players who think they can just slack off because the games don’t mean anything are not going to be in the NHL very long. How many Oilers are established NHLers? How many have played even three full NHL seasons? Even the veterans who have played 250 games — Milan Lucic, Andrej Sekera, Kris Russell, Ryan Strome and Larsson — have a lot on the line down the stretch.
Teams have buried veterans in the minors. They have not re-signed young forwards and we’ve seen many players kicked out of the league before they reach 200 games. There is always pressure to perform, and this group should have no reason to relax down the stretch. If they want to be back in the playoffs next season, the attention to detail and proving to their teammates they can be reliable begins now. I don’t think it ever stops.
The Oilers have a chance to add to the Flames misery and kick them when they’re down.
Oscar Klefbom skated yesterday, and according to Todd McLellan there is a good chance he will play Wednesday. Klefbom’s shoulder is bothering him, but we don’t know what or how serious it is. Klefbom said yesterday he wants to keep playing and is hopeful this recent undisclosed procedure will help. I know many believe he should just have surgery, but it isn’t that easy. There are many factors.
“I had a slap tear (labrum) in my shoulder. I never had surgery on it. You can strengthen it and I played eight more years with it. Many athletes play with it. Surgery is always the last option, not the first,” Jason Strudwick said on my radio show yesterday. Surgery is always a risk. Often it works out, but there are no guarantees and I understand why a player looks at every option first. Teams can’t force a player to have surgery. Many factors go into it and based on previous conversations with Klefbom, he wanted to exhaust every option first.
Matthew Tkachuk fell awkwardly Sunday night against the Islanders and will not play tonight. Kris Versteeg is getting closer, but won’t go tonight and it looks like Mark Jankowski will be a healthy scratch. Head coach Glen Gulutzan stopped practice yesterday and urged his team, with a few F-bombs, to play the right way. We’ll see if his emotional plea pays off tonight.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING…
The good news for Edmonton: Connor McDavid has 84 points and is having a brilliant year. The bad news? Everything else. The Oilers enter tonight 16 points out of a playoff spot and the sound you’re hearing are the cheapest years of McDavid’s undoubtedly productive NHL career flying by – he begins his $12.5 million cap hit next season, which really hampers management’s ability to surround him with a good supporting cast. He’s worth it, mind you, but he can’t do it alone.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Great Eight (Ovechkin) scored his 600th goal last night and the Oilers stretch their winning streak over the Flames to eight with a 4-2 win.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: McDavid has his fifth multi-goal game since February 1st. He picks up three points. In his first ten games versus Calgary, he had three points four times. Tonight he makes it five in eleven.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Darnell Nurse engages in his third scrap of the season and first since December 9th against Andrew Shaw. He and Garnet Hathaway have a spirited tilt and Nurse also scores his first goal in 23 games.
Take home a growler, a crowler, a sixer, a mixer, whatever. Sherbrooke Liquor. Where’s Your Beer?
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Source: Jason Gregor, Verified Twitter Account, 03/13/2018 – 1:00 pm MST