A meaningful Battle of Alberta in January. What more can you ask for? The Oilers are heading south down the QEII for a key match with the Flames. Here are your game day notes.
1. After an ugly month of December, the Oilers have come flying out of the gates in the New Year. They kicked off a difficult Atlantic Division road trip with an overtime loss in Buffalo but, since then, they’ve won three consecutive games, with two coming against top competition in Boston and Toronto. A win Calgary tonight would be a ribbon on top of an incredibly successful trip for the Oilers that makes it easy to forget about the struggles of last month.
2. As great as the wins against the Eastern teams are (all wins are important, don’t get me wrong) these four-point games against the other Pacific Division opponents in the playoff race are massive. The Oilers, counting tonight, have nine more games left against Calgary, Vegas, and Arizona and only four points are the difference from first to fifth in the division. Edmonton is 3-3-1 against that crop of teams so far this season and having a good record in those nine remaining games could be the difference between making the playoffs and not. Beyond that, these games will also go a long way in determining home ice through the first couple rounds of the playoffs.
3. The Flames and Oilers have identical 24-17-5 records heading into tonight, but how these two teams got to this point is very different. The Oilers came flying out of the gate with a five-game winning streak, played .500 hockey for the next few weeks after that, sputtered in December, and have started to heat up again in January. The Flames started off slowly, had a big losing skid in November, fired their coach, went on a massive tear in December, slowed down again, and are now on a four-game winning streak. Both teams have had their ugly streaks and want to avoid having another one down the stretch.
4. The Oilers and Flames will be seeing a lot of each other over the next little bit. They play tonight, again on Jan. 29, and shortly after that on Feb. 1. Given how much these games mean to both teams and how often they’ll be seeing each other in a short time, there’s a good chance this Battle of Alberta will get heated.
5. A key for Edmonton on their three-game winning streak has been depth players chipping in offensively. Connor McDavid had a big game against the Leafs, but the team also got goals from Alex Chiasson and Kailer Yamamoto. Gaetan Haas scored a key goal against Boston and Riley Sheahan and Chiasson had huge goals against Montreal. This is nothing new, but getting scoring from elsewhere in the lineup makes life a lot easier for McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, who can’t be expected to have huge games every night.
6. Courtesty of Gregor here is the Oilers scoring last year compared to this season, as well as the Flames scoring, through 46 games.
|TEAM||TOP-5 FORWARDS||REST OF FORWARDS||DEFENCE|
|2018/19||91 (199)||24 (70)||16 (77)|
|EDMONTON||91 (222)||34 (75)||14 (84)|
|CALGARY||67 (166)||37 (85)||19 (75)|
Gregor added Edmonton’s depth forwards have scored 32 goals in the last 32 games. The Oilers top-five scorers have 32 EVG goals since November first and the depth scorers have 27. The depth players have really picked up their offence since November.
7. Another key for Edmonton lately has been the hot play of Mike Smith. With Mikko Koskinen sidelined with an illness, Smith took an opportunity and ran with it and Dave Tippett has been leaning into the hot hand of his veteran netminder. After going over a month without a win, Smith has a .926 save percentage on Edmonton’s four-game road trip so far. He’s a huge reason for their 3-0-1 record on the trip.
8. Speaking of hot goalies, Cam Talbot is playing some of his best hockey in years for the Flames right now. He’s picked up three of Calgary’s wins on their current four-game winning streak and he has a .951 save percentage over that span. His season save percentage is up to .923, the best since his near-Vezina-calibre 2016-17 season. Good for him. There was a time last year when it didn’t look Talbot would be able to find an NHL gig again.
9. Goaltending is key for the Flames right now as they still haven’t found their stride offensively. It’s been strange watching one of the league’s most potent offences from last season completely dry up this year, as the Flames rank 22nd in the league in goals scored. Nobody on the team is above a point-per-game, Johnny Gaudreau is on pace for the lowest point total of his career, and depth scorers that played such a vital role last year haven’t shown up this season. Mark Jankowski, who scored 14 last year and 17 the year before, hasn’t scored a goal yet.
10. Eat an ass, Calgary. Beat the Flames.