Ready to Rumble?
Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
11 months ago
Watching the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames shake hands after Connor McDavid’s overtime winner to decide Game 5 last May 26 in the first playoff series between the teams dating back to 1991, I was sure what we’ve long called the Battle of Alberta was actually back on again. For real.
We saw McDavid celebrating the 5-4 goal that sent the Oilers to the Western Conference final against Colorado. There was Oilers’ coach Jay Woodcroft, standing at the gate with his hand on his hip waiting for Darryl Sutter with the series decided between the two top teams in the Pacific Division. Meme material, that moment. After 31 years, the BOA was back, baby.
Well, not so fast. The Flames, who topped the Pacific with 50 wins and 111 points, and the Oilers, right behind with 49 wins and 104 points, meet tonight amid distinctly different circumstances. After 35 games, the Flames are eighth in the conference with 39 points. The Oilers are sitting in ninth place with 38 points despite having the same 18-15-2 record they did at this point last season.
While both teams will have something on the line when the puck drops tonight, the latest edition of the BOA is a lot further down the marquee than I expected. Some familiar names in the mix last season – Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk for the Flames and the retired Mike Smith and Duncan Keith as well as the injured Evander Kane for the Oilers — are missing. So is the sizzle that was rekindled just months ago.
WHAT THEY SAY
With 47 games remaining and Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Seattle ahead in the Pacific Division, there’s time for both teams to move up the standings, but thanks to scheduling, this is the third and final time they’ll meet this season unless there’s another playoff date in the cards. That’ll take some doing. The Oilers had just one win in their final five games before the Christmas break. The teams split the first two meetings – the Oilers won 3-2 Oct. 29 after Calgary prevailed 4-3 Oct. 15.
Down in Cowtown, Jacob Markstrom hasn’t had the start to the season he’d like. You can say the same thing about Jack Campbell, who was signed to be the starter but has been relegated to back-up behind Stuart Skinner, better by a wide margin. We haven’t seen the upgrade over Smith and Mikko Koskinen many fans expected. A leaky defensive corps has played into that.
Scoring hasn’t been a problem. McDavid is rolling with a 15-game point streak (14-17-31). He sits atop the scoring race at 30-36-66, 10 points up on Leon Draisaitl, at 21-35-56. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is on pace for a career season with 18-23-41 and Zach Hyman has been terrific again with 15-21-26. The power play leads the league at 32.3 per cent.
Combine a prolific attack with a blueline that hasn’t been good enough from the top down and goaltending that’s been hit-and-miss and you get what we have here. Will the Oilers be better when Kane returns from injury? Obviously, but he doesn’t play defence or goal. Can Darnell Nurse regain his form? What do we make of Evan Bouchard? Will Campbell find his game or is it ride-or-die with Skinner? What moves, if any, does GM Ken Holland make?
THE BOTTOM LINE
We won’t get all the answers about either team based on what happens tonight, but I’m hoping we’ll at least see an indication neither the Oilers nor the Flames are destined to settle in behind Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Seattle and that another post-season meeting is a possibility. For me, it’s a case of LFG already. Get on with it, gentlemen.
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