There’s nothing quite like Battle of Alberta day, ya know? Whether you’re listening to sports radio or arguing with a stranger on Twitter or in the comments section here at the Nation, an Oilers/Flames game day is always a different beast for any Alberta hockey fan. And based on the first game of this year’s season series, tonight’s rematch is set up to be a beauty.
For the year’s first BOA that happened back in mid-November, we packed a bus full of the Nation’s finest and made our way down to Calgary to cheer our boys on to victory and make life miserable for any Flames fan that was within yelling distance. To start, that approach was a lot of fun as the Oilers jumped up to a two-goal lead early, but then when the collapse happened in the third period we took back all of the abuse we dished out and then some. Needless to say, it’s not much fun to be at the Saddledome when the Oilers drop a two-goal lead and end up with nothing after you’ve spent 40 minutes chirping. With the first rematch happening in our house, there is nothing I could possibly want more than to see everyone in a red jersey walking enjoying the same level of sadness as we did when we left Calgary.
Coming into the second game of the season series, the Oilers have a good opportunity for revenge as they’re going up against a Flames team that not only played last night but will also be short a couple of key players due to injury and suspension. As if winning a BOA is not motivation enough, the Oilers are only two points out of third place in the division and one point out of a wildcard spot, so I’m hoping the boys see that and approach this game with all kinds of hunger and desperation. If they can actually put together a full game and not fall down the rabbit hole of distracted decision making then we should be alright. That said, the Flames are the hottest team in the Pacific Division right now and winners of eight of their last 10 contests, making this a must-have game for the Oilers that certainly won’t come easy.
If Edmonton is going to avenge November’s loss, they’re going to have to be ready from the moment the puck drops and find a way to maintain that focus for 60 minutes. With the Flames playing last night, it’ll be crucial to get a good start to try and take advantage of any fatigue that Calgary may have. The boys need to throw hits when they have a chance, get the cycle going as much as possible, and try to spend as much time in the offensive zone as they can to wear these guys out. More importantly, the Oilers have to stay focused on their game and not get sucked into the probable Tkachuk-related shenanigans that derailed their night in Calgary. In that game, the Oilers started well but spent more time worrying about repaying the Flames with physicality than actually putting up more goals on the scoreboard, and that ended up being the difference. That can’t happen again.
This game will be another massive test to see where this team is at under Hitchcock and a huge opportunity to get themselves back in the playoff picture. Here’s hoping these two teams put on another great show.
|LAST 10 GAMES||6-3-1||8-1-1|
|EXPECTED GOALS FOR%||51.53||53.07|
Numbers courtesy of Corsica (fancies at 5×5)
Draisaitl – McDavid – Chiasson
Khaira – Nuge – Puljujarvi
Lucic – Brodziak – Kassian
Zykov – Spooner – Rattie
Klefbom – Larsson
Nurse – Russell
Gravel – Benning
After blowing out the Minnesota Wild on Friday night, it makes sense that Hitchcock wouldn’t be making any changes to his lineups outside of Mikko Koskinen getting the start in net. Koskinen has a perfect 6-0 record at Rogers Place so far this season and we can only hope the big man keeps the train rolling tonight.
Gaudreau – Monahan – Lindholm
Tkachuk – Ryan – Bennett
Mangiapane – Jankowski – Neal
Czarnik – Quine – Hathaway
Hanifin – Hamonic
Brodie – Andersson
Kylington – Prout
The Flames will be without both Mikael Backlund (injury) and Mark Giordano (suspension) tonight, which is certainly a welcomed sight for any Oilers fan. Backlund is the Flames’ best shutdown centreman and usually gets a healthy dose of Connor McDavid any time these two teams so having him out means that someone less qualified will be tasked with shutting the captain down. As for Giordano, he took a two-game suspension for a knee-on-knee hit he threw against Koivu on Thursday night, which is a tough loss for Calgary’s back end. That said, the Flames lit up the Predators last night without these two guys in the lineup so while it certainly helps not having them in, there are no gimmes in this league and the Oilers are going to have to bust their asses to earn the win.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING…
The Flames are without two of their de-facto “shutdown McDavid unit” Sunday night. It’s going to be a difficult task, probably one of the hardest the Flames have had this year. It’s a perfect storm of the worst variables coming together for a battle against their provincial rivals. The second night of a back-to-back, their best defenseman and potential Norris candidate suspended, and their best shutdown forward injured.
Hopefully he can be managed with the roster assembled and with as little shenanigans as possible. The team is already tops in the West and maintaining it is the goal. If they can steal a win on a schedule loss, with these factors in play then it’s great. It’s another hypothetical two points they need.
Oh and James Neal: please score a goal before Milan Lucic. Give us the Christmas miracle that fans so desperately need.
Game Day Prediction: The Oilers allow an early goal after a costly defensive collapse, but come roaring back in the second period with two goals by Connor McDavid. From there, the Hitchcock defensive strangulation game comes into effect and the Oilers lock down a 2-1 win.
Obvious Game Day Prediction: Matthew Tkachuk will cheap shot anyone near him and refuse to answer the bell when called out for it. In one of those moments, Sportsnet cameras will get a great shot of his head retracting into his shell.
Not-So-Obvious Game Day Prediction: Both Milan Lucic and James Neal will have all kinds of opportunities to score tonight and will hit a combined total of six posts and crossbars.
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Source: NHL, Official Game Page, 12/09/2018 – 11:00 am MT