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5 THINGS - FLAMES VS. OILERS

Battle of Alberta reignites with Flames, Oilers tied in the standings

by RYAN DITTRICK @ryandittrick / CalgaryFlames.com

FLAMES (24-17-5) vs. OILERS (24-17-5)

8 p.m. MT | TV: CBC/Sportsnet | RADIO: Sportsnet 960 The FAN

2019-20 Season Series: 1-0-0

 

Leading Scorers:

Flames:

Points - Matthew Tkachuk (38)
Goals - Elias Lindholm (18)

Oilers:

Points - Connor McDavid (70)
Goals - Leon Draisaitl (25)

Special Teams:

Flames:

PP - 19.0% (19th) / PK - 82.8% (7th)

Oilers:

PP - 29.5% (1st) / PK - 83.2% (6th)

Advanced Stats:

Flames:    

Shot Attempts: 50.33% (13th)
High-Danger Chances: 49.30% (21st)

Oilers:

Shot Attempts: 47.50% (28th)
High-Danger Chances: 50.13% (13th)

 

Video: Brendan Parker sets up the Battle of Alberta

 

1. US

Winners of four straight, the Flames enter this highly anticipated Battle of Alberta looking to make a statement.

With only one point separating the first-place Vegas Golden Knights and the fourth-place Flames (who currently hold down the first wild-card spot), the Pacific Division playoff race is quickly becoming one of the most compelling in recent memory.

The Flames are coming off a 2-1 win over the Minnesota Wild on Thursday to help widen the gap between them and the non-playoff entries.

Now, they have their sights on the top spot, which could be in the offing, should this and the out-of-town scoreboard properly align on Saturday.

Derek Ryan and Johnny Gaudreau supplied the offence, while Cam Talbot made 42 saves to give the Flames a massive two points in the standings on Thursday.

"We gave them 19 (shots) from the inside of the 43 (overall)," said interim head coach Geoff Ward. "Nineteen were from the inside. For us, that's pretty good. With a little bit of a better third, that number would have been less. Anytime you get into a situation where you keep the majority of the shots to the outside of the ice, you like that. I think ... there's a lot there we can build on. We sure can't be satisfied with it, but if we're giving up that - we're in the 14 or 15 range on a nightly basis - we're good."

The Flames - like the Oilers - held an optional practice on Friday at the Scotiabank Saddledome, where talk of the upcoming Battle of Alberta was already hitting high gear.

And why not?

A matchup this late in the year between Flames and Oilers with first place on the line?

Oh, baby.

"This is a game that's going to be fun," Ward said. "Both teams are looking forward to it. But the preparation for it is just business as usual - we've got to get ourselves to play a game. We can't make it to be bigger than it is, but the fact that the rivalry is relevant - again - is good. It should make for a heck of an atmosphere in here tomorrow and a heck of a hockey game."

 

Video: "It's one of those games you circle on the calendar"

 

2. THEM

Dec. 27 already feels like a lifetime ago.

Since the 5-1 pounding at the hands of the Flames that night, the Oilers have gone 4-0-1, including a 3-0-1 road trip in which former Flame Mike Smith has not only started, but played extremely well in all four.

Most recently, the Oilers knocked off the Montreal Canadiens 4-2 with the foot soldiers - Riley Sheahan, Alex Chiasson, Josh Archibald, and the always reliable Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, delivering the offence.

Smith made 42 saves in his fourth straight start for Edmonton, and has a .932 save percentage and a 2.10 goals-against average in that span.

"I'm really happy for him because he did have a tough December, and he's come back," Oilers coach Dave Tippett told Sean Farrell of NHL.com. "But I've known Mike for a long time. He's a good pro. He prepares, he's an unbelievable athlete, and I've seen him get on rolls before, and he's a really good player when he's on a roll. And we've kind of ridden him on this trip out here and he's played very well, so it's good to see."

While Smith has been the story for the Oilers of late, it's the club's one-two punch on offence that has been the story for the majority of the campaign.

Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl sit 1-2 in league with 70 (24G, 46A) and 69 (25G, 44A) points, respectively, on a team that sits 18th in goals-per-game with an average of 3.02.

Those two have clearly driven the bus all year, but the Oilers have been getting contributions from all four forward lines, with Archibald, Sheahan, Gaetan Haas and the recently recalled Kailer Yamamoto, among others, finding their touch of late.

"They're playing a lot better now," said Flames interim head coach Geoff Ward. "They've got some confidence and are on a roll. They're going to come in here with an awful lot of confidence. They feel like they're going to continue to play the way that they are - and it's successful for them - they're a team that's going to be ready to play. For us, we have to understand that and be ready to play our game."

On the injury front, the Oilers are mostly healthy, but have been without defenceman Matt Benning for the past month and change - the Edmonton-born rearguard leaving the Dec. 1 meeting with the Vancouver Canucks late in the second period due to a concussion.

Benning, who returned to practice the other day in Montreal, remains out until after the All-Star break, Tippett said.

 

Video: McDavid, Draisaitl and Neal on facing the Flames

 

3. US VS. THEM

This is the second of five meetings between these two teams, and the first of three to be played at the Scotiabank Saddledome this season.

The Flames enter this fiery, Hockey Night contest with the upper hand, leading the series 1-0 after squashing the Oilers 5-1 back on Dec. 27 up in the Alberta capital.

Andrew Mangiapane led the way with a career-high three-point (1G, 2A) night, while TJ Brodie and Elias Lindholm also had multi-point efforts in the victory. In goal, David Rittich made 28 saves on 29 shots.

Connor McDavid had Edmonton's lone goal, while Mikko Koskinen and Mike Smith split the goaltending duties, with the former Flame coming on in relief, and stopping six of seven shots in the final 23 minutes and change.

These teams will meet again with a home-and-home set, beginning on Wednesday, Jan. 29 in Edmonton, and finishing up on Saturday, Feb. 1 in Calgary.

The final meeting of the season will - fittingly - take place on the final night of the NHL's regular season, Saturday, Apr. 4.

 

Video: Mangiapane, Lindholm lead Flames to 5-1 victory

 

4. THIS, THAT & THE OTHER

THIS: Johnny Gaudreau scored the game-winner in Thursday's win over the Minnesota Wild - the 26th game-winner of his NHL career. In doing so, he passed Lanny McDonald for the eighth-most game-winning-goals in Flames franchise history. ... THAT: Sean Monahan is now tied with Paul Reinhart for the 14th-most points in franchise history at 398. With another two more points, Monahan will become the 14th player in history to reach 400-point plateau - all with the Flames. ... THE OTHER: How good has Cam Talbot been recently? With 42 saves on Thursday, the veteran now has a .944 save percentage dating back to Dec. 1. That mark is tops in the league, by far. Tristan Jarry of the Pittsburgh Penguins is next best at .937. More impressively, Talbot has an NHL-best .961 (!) save percentage at even-strength, topping Toronto Maple Leafs backup, Michael Hutchinson, who's next in line at .957.

 

Video: "It's going to be a game of patience on my part"

 

5. PLAYERS TO WATCH

Flames - Derek Ryan

It was a tough call, between 'Doc' and Andrew Mangiapane - who are both coming off strong efforts against Minnesota - but in the end, the pivot gets our vote.

Ryan has two goals and four points in his last five games, and was an absolute stud in the faceoff circle the other night, winning a game-high 73% (11-4) of his draws in what was a clinical showing at both ends of the rink.

His line with Dillon Dube and Milan Lucic continues to give the Flames quality minutes in the bottom six.

"It's encouraging that we're winning some games 2-1 and are playing a little better defensively," Ryan said following Thursday's victory. "I thought we came out a little flat, but we were able to stick with it - and Cam held us in it. We got a goal early and that kind of got us going. They're a tough team to play against, Minnesota is. They lock it out pretty good and kind of frustrating, so I thought we did a good job sticking with it, staying with the game plan. That was a big goal by John (Gaudreau) at the end of the second, and then I thought we did a good job in the third coming out and playing a good, solid third period."

Oilers - Connor McDavid

It pretty much goes without saying, doesn't it?

But let's be honest: When a player of his caliber arrives on a 125-point pace, you can't help but take note. McDavid, who finished last year with a career-high 116 points, has hit another gear with 70 (24G, 46A) in 46 games already.

Thirty-one of those points have come on the powerplay, where the top-ranked Oilers are operating at a 29.5% percent success rate.

After McDavid (and Leon Draisaitl), Zack Kassian sits third in team scoring with 28 points 13G, 15A) in 43 games.

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