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Elliott to start in divisional match-up in Edmonton

Glen Gulutzan has confirmed Brian Elliott will be in net for tonight's edition of the Battle Of Alberta

by Torie Peterson @ToriePeterson /

EDMONTON, AB -- The Calgary Flames will turn to Brian Elliott in net when they take on the Edmonton Oilers at Rogers Place this evening.

"Elliott is going tonight," head coach Glen Gulutzan confirmed after the team's morning meeting in Edmonton. "We had a lot talk over (it) but we had a little bit of a plan too, with all the games we've had.

"I think (Chad Johnson) went the last four and coming into this, playing three in four nights and with just the way Ells has been, we're coming back with Ells."

Elliott is 8-10-1 this season with a 2.95 GAA and a .889 save percentage. The 31-year-old has earned four wins in his last five starts.

In 14 career games against the Oilers, Elliott has a 9-5-0 record with a 2.66 GAA and a .894 save percentage. He was in net for the first two games against the Oilers this season, making a combined 45 saves on the 55 shots he faced in the pair of setbacks.

Looking back on those losses in early October aren't the best indicators of this year's edition of the Battle Of Alberta.

After struggling out of the gate, the Flames have found a rhythm and now sit in the first Wildcard spot in the Western Conference. They trail the Oilers, who are holding onto the third position in the Pacific Division, by just three points.

Their special teams have done a complete turnaround from their sputtering starts. The Flames power play sits 12th in the NHL at 20.4 percent - an efficiency rate mirrored by the Oilers, who rank 11th in the league. Calgary's penalty kill has risen to 18th at 81.4 percent, another stat that is identical to that of the Oilers at this point in the season.

Suffice to say, a lot has changed over the past few months.

"I think we were so fresh with systems and stuff like that," Dougie Hamilton explained. "I think we're in more of a groove now with knowing what to do and how to be successful."

"I think that most players in there and even the coaches, if you take your emotion out of last night's game, would say we're much improved team than they faced," Gulutzan added. "And I'm sure so are they. They have a great coaching staff over there, they've got great players. But we're a different team than the team that they faced.

"Our specialty teams weren't ironed out when we were here first. I thought we were erratic. We're a lot more stable now. But you can't give the Oilers more than three opportunities ... they're running hot. We can kill two but you get into the threes and fours, it makes it tough."

One of the keys to keeping the Oilers off the power play is ensuring the team is playing an intelligent game against Edmonton captain Connor McDavid.

The forward leads the league in scoring with 50 points in 44 games and can be nearly impossible to contain thanks to his incredible speed, vision and skill.

"We've put together a little video here this morning to make sure we're playing him the right way," Gulutzan said. "If you look at how some other teams have played him, you always have to be above him. That speed is something is real tough to deal with and even if you're in the right position, it can still be tough.

"We have to make sure we're above their players all night and not giving the chances to get those breakaways like we did in the first game we were here."

One player who will be seeing a lot of McDavid and his linemates, Patrick Maroon and Leon Draisaitl, quite often is Mikael Backlund.

The pivot and his wingers, Matthew Tkachuk and Michael Frolik, have been tasked with lining up against opponent's top lines and have been given the bulk of defensive zone starts this season. If McDavid's line is out there, Gulutzan will likely get this top shutdown trio on the ice as quickly as possible.

"We just need to give him no space," Backlund said. "Be real solid, play on the right side of the puck, stay above them all night and make it frustrating for them."

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