The Christmas break is over and we’re ready to kick off the second half of the season with 2019-20’s first installment of the Battle of Alberta.
1. The Oilers have played 40 games this season and none of them have been against the Calgary Flames. Oddly enough, the Oilers and Flames will play each other four times in the span of just over a month before not meeting again until the very end of the season. It’s a bit of a scheduling oddity as there’s generally a Battle of Alberta early on in the season, but it’ll be exciting seeing these two rivals square off five times in the second half, especially given how tight the Pacific Division is.
2. Doing well against the Pacific Division will play a huge role in whether or not the Oilers ultimately make the playoffs. They’ve played 13 games against the Pacific thus far, posting a thoroughly solid 8-4-1 record. In the second half, they’ll play 16 games against Pacific teams. Five will be against Calgary, three will be against both Vegas and Anaheim, two will be against both San Jose and Arizona, and just one will be against both Vancouver and Los Angeles.
3. Coming out of the break, we have a logjam in the Pacific Division. The Arizona Coyotes and Vegas Golden Knights sit at the top with 46 points each, the Oilers are in third with 44 points, the Flames are right behind them with 43 points, and the Canucks’ win over Edmonton on Monday brought them right into the thick of things with 42 points. At the bottom, the Kings, Sharks, and Ducks are all tied with 34 points. It’s going to be an interesting second half.
4. After finishing the 2018-19 season with the best record in the Western Conference, the Flames went and lost in the first round of the playoffs to the eighth-seeded Colorado Avalanche. The loss was a monumental failure for the Flames as the team had aspirations of making a deep playoff run and the problems seem to have spilled over into this season.
5. While Calgary put together a six-game winning streak when Geoff Ward took over as head coach after Bill Peters was fired, they’re still lagging well behind where they were at last season. The Flames went into Christmas with a 22-12-3 record last year and were clearly the cream of the crop in the division. Though people in Calgary said over and over it was just a slow start, we’re 39 games into the season and this appears to be who the Flames are.
6. Courtesy of Gregor, here is the Oilers scoring last year compared to this season, as well as the Flames scoring, through 40 games.
|TEAM||TOP-5 FORWARDS||REST OF FORWARDS||DEFENCE|
|2018/19||82 (179)||17 (56)||14 (70)|
|EDMONTON||79 (192)||25 (58)||11 (68)|
|CALGARY||57 (131)||31 (78)||14 (61)|
7. Gregor added: The Oilers are actually relying in their top-five goals scorers less this year than last. This season the top-five produced 68.6% of Edmonton’s goals and last year it was 72.5%. They’ve scored 115 goals after potting 113 last season. Their offence has improved slightly in a similar fashion as their overall record. The Oilers are 20-16-4 after being 19-18-3 last season.
8. And he quickly looked the Oilers goals against as well.
Defensively the Oilers are pretty much the same through 40 games. Last year they’d allowed 116 goals (excluding empty net goals) and this year they’ve allowed 115 (excluding empty net goals).
Last year, through 20 starts, Mikko Koskinen was 12-7-1 with a .919Sv% and 2.52 GAA, while Cam Talbot, in 20 starts, was 7-11-2 with a .892Sv% and a 3.30 GAA.
This year, in 22 starts, Koskinen is 13-7-2 with a .917Sv% and 2.66 GAA, while Mike Smith, in 18 starts, is 7-9-2 with a .893Sv% and a 3.14 GAA.
9. The biggest difference between this year and last for Calgary has been the decline of their offence. Last season, the first placed Flames finished second in the league in goals as they boasted one of the deepest offences in the league. The top line of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Elias Lindholm was lethal, combining for 97 goals. Matthew Tkachuk set a career-high with 34 goals and Mark Giordano, who would ultimately win the Norris Trophy, scored 17. Beyond them, the Flames also had six more players score 10 or more goals, including Mikael Backlund, who hit 21.
10. This year, all of it has dried up. Gaudreau and Monahan are putting together their worst seasons in years as they have 10 and 11 goals respectively. The depth has also disappeared. Backlund has just four goals this year, Sam Bennett and Michael Frolik have just three, and Mark Jankowski hasn’t scored yet. Those players combined to score 64 goals last season. They’re currently on pace to score 21.
11. Tonight’s game will also mark the return of three former Oilers to Edmonton. We likely won’t see Cam Talbot, but Milan Lucic and Tobias Rieder have been mainstays in Calgary’s bottom-six. Rieder is already having a much better season this year than he did last, as he already scored two goals. Lucic has three goals so far, putting him on pace to match his total of six goals from last year.
12. The Oilers are currently on pace to put up 90 points in the standings, which is exactly what it took to get the Avalanche their eighth seed last year. At the Christmas break last season, the Oilers were 18-15-3, on pace to put up 88 points in the standings. Edmonton’s implosion last year came in the second half. Yet again, their destiny is in their own hands. Playing just a little better than .500 hockey and beating divisional opponents the rest of the way should be enough to get into the playoffs.
13. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are on pace to put up 127 and 125 points respectively. Nikita Kucherov’s 128 points last season eclipsed Joe Thornton’s record for most in a season since the 2004-05 lockout. Can one of them break Kucherov’s record? Could both do it?