Flames, Oilers open with Battle of Alberta game
EDMONTON, Alberta -- For the Calgary Flames, the Battle of Alberta has been more like the Blowout of Alberta.
Last season, the Flames dropped all four games of the season series to their rivals from the north, the Edmonton Oilers. The Flames could only claim one measly point from a shootout loss out of the four games. They were outscored 21-11 by Edmonton over the four games.
The Flames open this NHL season at Edmonton's Rogers Place on Wednesday night. And, coach Glen Gulutzan was frank about the player the Flames need to limit in order to change their fortunes against the Oilers.
"Connor McDavid," said Gulutzan of the reigning league MVP. "That's going to be a challenge for everybody in the league. He's a good player, so we have to make sure we're ready to play against an elite player, and we have to play a certain way for 60 minutes."
And what is that "certain way?" Gulutzan said it's "about staying in structure and playing defensive," so don't expect the Flames to try to turn Wednesday's game into an end-to-end affair.
Flames All-Star center Sean Monahan said there are jitters in the lead-up to the season's curtain-raiser.
"It's fun, it's exciting, you go to bed and you're thinking about the game a lot," he said. "Once you get to the rink, you kind of let those nerves go, and you're back to game one of 82. Tomorrow's an important game and it's a big night for our group."
Considering that nine points separated the Oilers (103) and Flames (94) in the standings last season, it's clear that the Edmonton sweep of the Battle of Alberta games went a long way to determining how the teams finished.
Both Alberta teams made the playoffs last season, and both were eliminated by the Anaheim Ducks -- the Flames in a first-round sweep, the Oilers in a second-round, seven-game nail-biter.
With McDavid coming off a 100-point season, and NHL saves leader Cam Talbot back in goal, more is expected of the Oilers than the Flames this season. Last season, the Oilers ended a decade-long playoff drought. Just a year later, the Vegas bookmakers have them second only to Pittsburgh when it comes to odds to win the Stanley Cup, which means the Oilers are the favorites to win the Western Conference. Talk about a meteoric rise.
"Everyone knew what we did last year, and what we were capable of," said Oilers left winger Patrick Maroon, who enjoyed a breakout 27-goal campaign last season. "But now we've got to bring it in the 2017-18 season. Everyone's got different individual stats for themselves and goals for themselves, and we have goals for the team, too. Everyone's just excited to get the ball going again."
Meanwhile, Calgary has made a couple of major adjustments, hoping it can challenge the Oilers and the rest of their Pacific Division rivals. The biggest change is in goal. All-star Mike Smith was acquired from the Arizona Coyotes and will be expected to stabilize a position where Calgary was inconsistent in 2016-17. And, on Monday, the Flames came to terms with Jaromir Jagr, the NHL's all-time No. 2 scorer. Jagr will turn 46 later this season.
In the offseason, the Oilers signed McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, who finished eighth in the league scoring race last season, to long-term contracts. But the talk of preseason was the play of the team's first-round draft pick, Kailer Yamamoto. The American right winger, who stands 5-foot-8, was expected to come to camp and be sent back to his junior team, the Spokane Chiefs. But he led the Oilers with five goals in five preseason games, and will start the season with the big club.
"He understands the game really well," said Draisaitl. "He's a fearless little guy, but he doesn't shy away from getting in there, and I think that's the most important thing. With that, he has really good hockey sense and a knack for finding the net or making plays."
"I expected to come in, work as hard as I can and be just the player I am," said Yamamoto. "Not try to do too much, just stick to what I can do."
On Tuesday, Calgary announced that the team had signed former New York Ranger Tanner Glass to a one-year deal. Glass played in just 11 regular-season games in 2016-17, scoring once.
The Oilers assigned Anton Slepyshev to their AHL affiliate in Bakersfield, Calif., as the Russian winger continues to recover from an ankle injury that held him out of preseason action.
Updated October 3, 2017