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Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

GDB 41.0: The Battle Begins (7pm MT, SNW)

I hope everyone had an excellent Christmas break but it’s time to get back to work. Tonight, the Edmonton Oilers take on the @Calgary Flames for the first of five meetings on the season as both teams will look to grab two huge points in a divisional showdown.

Isn’t it weird that we’re already at the end of December and this is the first time the Oilers and Flames have played each other? It’s kind of a strange scheduling quirk, right? Though, because of the spacing, these two teams will now meet up four times in the next month and change, which will surely make for some interesting storylines as we move forward and both squads look to maintain pace in the Western Conference. For the Oilers, and this goes without saying, they really need to work on righting the ship after a lacklustre (I’m being polite) month of December that saw them duff away their hot start and winning tonight’s game would be a massive step in the right direction. With this contest marking the midway point of the season, I believe we’re getting closer to a time where every game is a must-win for our boys as every two points will only be tougher to get from here. To put it another way, we can’t have another stretch of games as we’ve seen over the past month or else we’ll surely be talking about another playoff-less spring.

After heading into the Christmas break with a disappointing loss to Vancouver, the Oilers need to make sure that they come up with a better effort tonight against the Flames because the wheels are falling off around here and it’s starting to give us all a dose of PTSD. Not only do they need the big boys to get back to the heater they were on earlier in the season, but they also need to do a much better job of tidying things up in their own end. At some point, it’s like they’ve lost their attention to detail and they’re really struggling to get it back. Frankly, I can’t think of a better time to get back on track than tonight against the Flames in the first Battle of Alberta of the season, and if the boys play the way they can (think October/November) then we should be in line for a good time. That said, we haven’t seen the October/November flavour of the Oilers very often lately, and they actually seem to be getting progressively looser in their own end which is causing them to bleed goals en masse. Can they buck the trend? Dare to dream.

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I don’t know about you guys, but I can’t help but feel that this is a game that the Oilers have to have as they’ve won only four of their last 12 outings and find themselves losing ground fast. As you’ll see in the numbers section below, Edmonton’s goal differential has been moving in the wrong direction over the past month and they haven’t been able to find a way to plug the hole in the dam.

THE NUMBERS

OILERS FLAMES
RECORD 20-16-4 19-15-5
WIN/LOSS STREAK L1 L1
LAST 10 GAMES 3-6-1 6-3-1
GOALS FOR 117 104
GOALS AGAINST 124 116
POWER PLAY% 29.7 19.6
PENALTY KILL% 83.0 84.8
AVG. SHOTS/FOR 29.1 30.8
AVG. SHOTS/AGAINST 31.3 32.5
TEAM SAVE% .902 .908
CORSI FOR% 47.34 50.55
PDO 0.990 0.985
TEAM SHOOTING% 7.88 6.53
EXPECTED GOALS FOR% 48.21 49.35

Numbers courtesy of Natural Stat Trick (fancies at 5×5)

LINEUPS…

Oilers

Draisaitl – McDavid – Kassian
Neal – RNH – Archibald
Khaira – Sheahan – P. Russell
Nygard – Haas – Chiasson

Klefbom – Larsson
Nurse – Bear
Russell – Jones

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Koskinen

Was anyone else a little bit surprised to see Mikko Koskinen getting the start tonight? I mean, I’m not at all complaining, it’s certainly the right decision since he’s been the better of the two, but I was expecting to see Mike Smith get the chance to go up against his former team.

Flames

Tkachuk – Lindholm – Mangiapane
Monahan – Backlund – Gaudreau
Lucic – Ryan – Dube
Rinaldo – Rieder – Bennett

Giordano – Brodie
Hanifin – Hamonic
Stone – Andersson

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Rittich

Anybody else expecting goals from Lucic and Rieder tonight? Can’t just be me, right?

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WHAT THEY’RE SAYING…

From Flamesnation:

Considering historical Battles fought between Dec. 23 and Dec. 27, the Flames’ record against the Oilers is a feeble 5-9-2. Instead of overtime losses, the third slot actually represents ties which transpired in the first two Christmas-abutting Battles; Boxing Day 1982 spurred a 4-4 stalemate highlighted by a hat-trick from Lanny MacDonald and two goals from Oilers’ legend Mark Messier, and Dec. 23, 1983 went undecided as a 5-5 draw.

Visions of sugarplums seem to plague the Flames in contests just before Christmas, where their winning percentage is only 33.3%. One could also infer that turkey leftovers are a more effective pre-game meal for the Oilers than the Flames, as Edmonton has won 70% of Battles of Alberta played immediately after the holiday.

Tradition has favoured the Flames in recent years, however, as the red sweaters snagged three victories in the last four matchups from 2003, 2013, 2014, and 2015 respectively. This auspicious upswing is one of many patterns underlying these festive editions of the fiery feud.

TONIGHT…

Photoshop: Tom Kostiuk

Game Day Prediction: Right when we think our boys are going to break our heart again, they suck us back in with a big 3-2 win. 

Obvious Game Day Prediction: Both Milan Lucic and Tobias Rieder score against the Oilers because why wouldn’t they, right? If the Oilers were running an on-ice charity it would probably be called ‘Goals for Plugs.’

Not-So-Obvious Game Day Prediction: The Oilers’ video team is somehow able to put together a highlight pack for a Lucic tribute video. 

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