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Flames eagerly awaiting rematch with Oilers

The Flames have their sights set on avenging Wednesday's loss with a victory over the Oilers on Friday

by George Johnson @GeorgejohnsonCH / CalgaryFlames.com

CALGARY, AB -- Where's the sense in trading haymakers with Mike Tyson? Groundstrokes with Federer? Guitar licks with Clapton? Or insults with Don (ya hockey puck!) Rickles?

"We played right into their hands,'' sighed skipper Mark Giordano, a soft shake of the head to underline the utter folly of Wednesday night.

"Giving them transition and speed.

"You can't trade chances off the rush. We get pucks in and we make plays in their zone. That's what we've gotta focus on.

"Where we lost was though the neutral zone, between the bluelines. They developed speed off of transition and a lot of that was us turning the puck over.

"So we've got to clean that up."

Connor and his precocious boy band were in time-warp overdrive as the NHL raised its curtain on 2016-2017.

This promised to be a night of new beginnings and nostalgia in equal measure the sparkling, shiny new Rogers Place, just out of its wrapping paper.

And the Edmonton Oilers did not waste the specialness of the evening, sprinting out to a 7-4 victory at the expense of their provincial sparring partners.

Hardly the start the re-configured Calgary Flames had ventured north in search of, though.

"They won their home game,'' said Giordano, oozing quiet defiance. "Now it's on us. We've gotta win ours."

They won't do it falling so easily into Edmonton's trade-chances trap.

"That's the game they want to play,'' reiterated winger Lance Bouma, "and we let them play it. They're so skilled. That run-and-gun style fits them to a T.

"The way we can beat them is play more in their end and win both bluelines. We can't always make the pretty play. So chip it in and go in after it.

"We can't be lulled into playing their style."

Reminder: It's one game. The Flames, remember, went through a coaching change, the acclimatization period of a handful of new players at key positions and the absence of their talismanic leading scorer through training camp.

They're also fully cognizant, however, that falling too far behind point-wise early in a campaign can, in the final analysis, turn out rather badly.

Meaning Friday and then the second half of a back-to-back set, Saturday at Vancouver, are already important fixtures in re-establishing confidence and ambition.

To that end, coach Glen Gulutzan put his chastened charges through a brisk 35-minute workout at the Scotiabank Saddledome in preparation for a rematch that marks Calgary's home opener.

"We covered off a few things in video,'' said Gulutzan, "and got (Wednesday) night cleaned up.

"That's the thing when you have young teams in emotional games. I thought they were better than us most of the night, they were more controlled than we were.

"We just played too wide open. I don't think we followed a game plan.

"When we got behind we got a little out of sorts. We started to push and that's something we're going to eliminate from our game. We have to play the same game whether we're up or down, for 60 minutes. And we've got to get comfortable in that skin.

"Certainly we want a more controlled game from our guys, holding pucks in the offensive zone, not feeding the transition.

"Not trying to open ourselves up all the time. We need to tighten the screws there."

One area that pleased the new man in charge was a real problem for last year's edition: power play and penalty kill.

The PK actually scored twice, on back-to-back penalties, to briefly tie the game, 3-3.

"I liked our special teams,'' said Gulutzan. "They got one assisted by the referee on (Calgary's) PK. We had 11 minutes of penalty kill and they managed three shots, compared to our five minutes on the power play and nine shots.

"Our 5-on-5 play, which was so good during the pre-season, really let us down."

With all-timers the like Gretzky, Kurri, Anderson, Coffey, Messier, et al in attendance, the Oiler newest wonderkid, Connor McDavid, stole Wednesday's show, scoring twice and adding a helper.

Friday promises to be a far sterner test for the precocious 19-year-old captain given that the Flames have last change. And, unsurprisingly, that the familiar defence pairing of Giordano and TJ Brodie had been reunited for practice Thursday.

The environment will also be diametrically different. This is Calgary's home curtain-raiser, and the local partisans are certain to be jacked.

"You can feed off that energy, for sure,'' said centreman Sam Bennett. "The Saddledome's going to be rocking and it's a lot of fun to play in front of a crowd like that."

Forty-eight hours later, a chance for atonement and the opportunity to play to their identity.

Thinking you can out-leg Usain Bolt to the last sandwich on the tray? Well, chances are you're going to go hungry.

"We don't,'' cautioned Gulutzan for the umpteenth time, "don't want to get into another track meet.

"But we don't throw any (poor) games. We learn from them and move past it.

"Now that we are past it we're going to look ahead to playing our game and what we need to do Friday to return the favour."

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