Battle of Alberta begins anew
Saturday, 10.03.2009 / 8:00 PM
FLAMES (1-0-0) at OILERS (0-0-0)
Season series -- Edmonton and Calgary split last year's season series, with the Flames taking a 4-1 win to salvage the tie in their last meeting on April 11, 2009.
Big Story -- While the Flames already opened their schedule on Thursday, hockey season may as well not be underway in Calgary until they've faced the Oilers. Edmonton's opener on Saturday night marks the first act of this year's renewal of the Battle of Alberta.
Flames: With new coach Brent Sutter coming back to his home province of Alberta, many expect the Flames to be among the cream of the West's crop, and Calgary looked the part early in its opener Thursday against Vancouver. The Flames put four pucks past elite goaltender Roberto Luongo to take a commanding lead, but a late rally by the Canucks gave some cause for concern. With opening night jitters out of the way, and the early nerves settled for Calgary, another late game slip would seem unlikely. The lead may not have held against Vancouver were it not for the heroics of all-world netminder Miikka Kiprusoff. Kipper made a number of major stops against a team many consider to be a top threat to take the Northwest Division crown. With Kiprusoff playing to that level on a nightly basis, Calgary could be primed to make a strong start to the year.
Oilers: After a season that was expected to see the Oilers return to the playoffs, things went south in a hurry. After letting coach Craig MacTavish go following a third straight spring of early tee times, the Oil revamped and recharged in the offseason, bringing in Pat Quinn behind the bench and signing the ageless Nikolai Khabibulin away from Chicago to stand between the pipes. Edmonton's biggest offseason story may have been a splash that wasn't, as a deal to bring in Dany Heatley from Ottawa was nixed by the disgruntled winger. But with an ever maturing stable of flashy young playmakers like Sam Gagner and Andrew Cogliano gaining more experience, the Oilers may yet climb their way back to the top eight. The responsibility for that will fall on Quinn's shoulders, and he can handle the weight. Saturday's opener will be his first chance to prove it.
Who's Hot -- Mike Comrie was traded after a contract dispute in his first stint in Edmonton six years ago, but if his finish to the preseason is any indication, Comrie is with the program in his return to the Oil. Comrie tallied three goals in the last three games of September, including two in the preseason finale against Vancouver. In Calgary, Kiprusoff's performance in the season opener cannot be understated. The Finn made 39 saves in the win, but saved his best for the final period when he stopped 20 shots.
Injury Report -- Calgary could be thinner on the blue line as defenseman Cory Sarich is questionable for Saturday night with a bruised foot. Edmonton could also be coming in with a depleted lineup, as Lubomir Visnovsky, Ales Hemsky and Ethan Moreau are all expected to miss the game with various ailments, while Marc Pouliot and Fernando Pisani are expected to be on injured reserve.
Stat Pack -- 4 - Sutter is bringing his rigid system to Calgary, which made his Devils among the stingiest units in the League last season. New Jersey ranked fourth overall in fewest goals allowed, and with marquee pieces such as Jay Bouwmeester and Dion Phaneuf, Sutter should be more than able to make it work in Alberta.
Puck Drop -- If Zach Stortini can protect Edmonton's young guns from Calgary's bruising blueline tandem of Bouwmeester and Phaneuf, the Oilers have the ability to surprise their provincial rivals, but a lineup missing several key players could make it difficult for the Oil to start the new campaign on the right foot.
-- David Kalan, NHL.com