NHL Preview: Edmonton Oilers vs. Calgary Flames
Let the Battle of Alberta begin (finally)! While the NHL made a serious mistake not matching these two up last Saturday when the season opened for just about every single team in the NHL, at least Albertans, Edmonton Oilers fans and Calgary Flames fans everywhere did not have to wait very long for round 1 of the 2013 series to get under way.
Is it too early to hit the panic button if you are the Flames right now? The team is already old and thin and has been beset by injuries, and Miikka Kiprusoff has looked shaky in net. The returns of Jiri Hudler and Roman Cervenka Saturday night could provide a boost, and the Flames do own the NHL’s fifth-best power play at the moment, connecting on over 36% of their power plays, but this team has looked sluggish so far and has struggled to keep up. Their 0-2-1 record has them in last place in the Northwest Division, not to mention tied for the worst record in the Western Conference.
This is a veteran team that usually knows how to win just enough to compete for a spot in the playoffs, so they may be able to right this ship in the end and be okay; but, the depth of the hole they are putting themselves in to start this season cannot be overstated, and if they fall to the Oilers in regulation time on Saturday, Flames fans will need to start worrying. Another loss could precipitate the beginning of the end of their squad as they finally descend into the full-on rebuild everyone outside of Calgary knows they need to go through for the sake of the franchise’s future.
It’s working out brilliantly for Edmonton, after all.
For the most part, the Oilers are on a roll. With clutch wins over the Vancouver Canucks and Los Angeles Kings so far, they have shown they are a scrappier, stronger team than they have been in the past. Outside of their epic failure of a first period against the San Jose Sharks earlier this week, this has been a pretty solid team so far that is growing with each game that passes.
Nail Yakupov and Justin Schultz are hitting their offensive strides, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall continue to lead the charge of the young guns and key efforts from veterans like Ales Hemsky have helped remove some of the pressure from the Baby Oilers when the need has arisen.
Shawn Horcoff is still a liability five ways from Sunday every time he has to do more than just take a faceoff, and Captain Canada–Ryan Smyth–is skating like molasses out there, but the veterans are doing okay, by and large. Devan Dubnyk was fantastic in net against the Kings on Thursday, which was a nice bounce-back performance for him and showed the Oilers’ brass a lot about what they have in him as the team’s possible goaltender of the future.
Any Flames team with Jarome Iginla on it, at home in the friendly confines of the Scotiabank Saddledome, is going to have a chance to win, and you know the players are going to be as amped for this first matchup in the Battle of Alberta as the fans are, so anything can happen. Will the Oilers be up for the challenge?