The Flames may have come out on the wrong end of Tuesday's 'pre play-in' tilt, but the game proved to be a valuable exercise in just about every way possible.
Among the items on interim head coach Geoff Ward's wish list:
Work ethic? Check.
Special teams practice? Check, check, check.
Elias Lindholm scored a powerplay goal and the Flames went 1-for-5 on the penalty kill against the league's top unit, but the Oilers took a 4-1 decision on Tuesday at Rogers Place, despite being out-shot 28-14 in the final 40 minutes.
Cam Talbot got the start in goal and made 19 saves on 21 shots in 29:40 of action. David Rittich finished the game, stopping six of eight the rest of the way.
The Flames were far and away the better of the teams for much of the night, but they were unable to overcome an early, two-goal deficit.
But all things considered, there was plenty to like about the game as a whole.
"You know what? Everything that we wanted to take a look at, we saw tonight," Ward said. "There was an awful lot of good things that we did. The start was slow, but we got a lot better as the game went on. ... Our guys gave a really good accounting of themselves, especially in the second and third periods.
"Their goalie made the stops that he had to and we have to keep plugging. We move forward now and look forward to the next couple days of practice before starting for real on Saturday."
The Oilers drew first blood only 64 seconds into the contest, on a goal eerily similar to the opener of the last meeting between these two teams.
Oscar Klefbom carried the puck down the far side, buried his head and leaned into a slapshot that was kicked out by Talbot, who came well out of his crease to cut down the angle. But,as he scrambled back into the paint, and a pair of Flames - including a diving Erik Gustafsson - hustled back in defence, Kailer Yamamoto eyed up the loose puck and had a free shot into the yawning cage.
He made no mistake.
The Oilers opened up a two-goal lead with a powerplay tally at 7:44, as Connor McDavid took a backdoor feed from Leon Draisaitl, before quickly pivoting his body, moving the puck to his forehand and tucking a quick shot up under the bar to beat his former teammate.
An Ethan Bear penalty late in the opening 20 gave the Flames their first look on the powerplay, but despite holding a significant territorial advantage for the entire two minutes, they were unable to get much on the net.
As the powerplay expired, the Darnell Nurse and the Oilers raced back on a dangerous-looking odd-man rush, but Talbot was up to the task, smothering the D man's blast from just outside the hash marks.
Tempers flared in the final few minutes of the period as former Flame James Neal took a healthy whack at Matthew Tkachuk, prompting a response from No. 19 himself, as well as the always-willing Rasmus Andersson.
Neal was issued a minor for his efforts, but the Flames were unable to cash on the advantage.
Shots on goal favoured the Oilers 17-9 after one.
"I thought the energy was good in this game," said Milan Lucic. "There was physicality, scrums. To be honest, it felt, for me - personally, and in talking to some teammates after the game - it felt like a regular-season game already, and that was the first time we'd played in about five months.
"Once you're in the play and you're in the flow of the game and the blood's flowing... Don't get me wrong. You love the energy and the momentum that the fans bring to the game, and you miss them. But when you're trying to make plays and you're getting in on the forecheck, you kind of get into your own zone and you're not focused on the outside type of stuff."
The Flames had a great chance to get on the board early in the second period when Sam Bennett one-timed a pass from Andrew Mangiapane off the rush, but Mikko Koskinen shuffled across to his left post, made the initial two stops off Bennett, then scrambled back to the opposite side and put the brakes on a Rasmus Andersson try from the top of the circles.
Both teams made a change in goal near the 10-minute mark of the period, with Rittich coming on for the 'home' team, and former Flame Mike Smith entering for the Oil.
The Flames looked better in the back half of the middle frame, and even out-shot the Oilers 16-7 in the stanza, but they were still having some trouble generating many quality chances. But, they certainly went to work and began punishing the Oilers with a committed effort in the corners and below the goal line, and that's where much of their offence began.
As a result, the Flames were rewarded with a late powerplay and made the most of it with a score-halving strike with only 3.6 seconds left on the clock.
With Tkachuk crashing the net and bumping over Smith in the process, Lindholm picked up the loose puck at the side of the net and promptly shelved it.
The Flames were all over the Oilers early in the third period and nearly came up with the equalizer Dillon Dube and Bennett took off on a 2-on-1. Dube fed a beautiful pass across to Bennett in full stride, but Smith got across to rob the bearded one with a wonderful, sprawling glove save.
The Flames got one last gasp on a late powerplay, but it wasn't to be.
A fortuitous goal by Patrick Russell with 4:34 to play, followed by McDavid's second of the night less than a half-minute elater, iced an Oilers victory.
It's been 140 days since the last NHL game on March 11. According to Cap Friendly, the average time between NHL games during the off-season is 98 days. This, assuming the Stanley Cup is awarded on June 12, and that the pre-season schedule begins on Sept. 15. The Flames have had one of the longest breaks of anyone, with their last game playing out on March 8. … In a strange twist, the Flames were actually listed as the home team for tonight's game. In addition to wearing their home-red kits, the Flames took to the ice to the tune of Hells Bells and were greeted by Flames PA announcer 'Beesley,' who delivered his trademark line, "Your Calgaryyyyyyyyyyyy FLAMES!" Yes, IN Edmonton. ... Prior to puck drop, the teams honoured former Oilers forward Colby Cave, who tragically passed on April 11 after suffering a brain bleed. In addition to a touching video tribute, the teams held a moment of silence before the playing of the Canadian national anthem. … Speaking of powerful, all-Canadian moments: Oilers defenceman honoured his Indigenous heritage by displaying his jersey name bar in Cree syllabics. "It will be an honour to wear this jersey tonight," Bear told Ryan Frankson of EdmontonOilers.com. "I feel like I will be wearing it for all those Indigenous players who came before me and those Indigenous kids dreaming of playing in the NHL."
"I enjoyed it. Obviously, I think heavy hearts for both teams. I got a chance to be his teammate and his linemate here in Edmonton when we were Oilers together. I got a little emotionally watching that tribute. I think it's great that that moment before the game was for Colby. He touched a lot of people because he was a great person. I think it was great that the Oilers and the NHL made that moment about him."
Lucic on turning the focus to Game 1 vs. Winnipeg:
"You're just preparing as best as you can as a team and as an individual to be ready for Saturday night. To be honest, it's exciting, it's a lot of fun. I think the NHL and Edmonton did a good job with the bubble, with what we've experienced so far. Today was good, and to have two hard practices Thursday and Friday, we can go over some details and some things. All of our focus goes into Winnipeg now."
Lucic on watching Winnipeg's game on Wednesday night:
"There's not much to do here, so why not take (the opportunity) and be a fan (laughs)."
Lindholm on lessons from this game:
"We're going to enjoy the day off tomorrow. Overall, we can take a lot of things from this game. Obviously, a sloppy start, but it was good to get Edmonton right away and get into the battle."
Ward on what he's taking from this one:
"I think we need to feel good about what we saw tonight. I thought there was lots of intensity in this game, I thought the pace was really good. There was some hitting on both sides and we played hard. I thought the rivalry got the intensity up a little bit. We're disappointed we didn't get the win, obviously, but there are things we can take out of it after the slow start."
Ward on naming a goaltender for Game 1:
"Obviously, the nice thing is that we have an off day tomorrow and we can take some time and look at it. We want to do the due dilligence, but the puzzle is starting to become more clear. We're going to sit down and make a decision."
Here are the forward lines, D pairings and goalie to start the game:
Johnny Gaudreau - Sean Monahan - Elias Lindholm Andrew Mangiapane - Mikael Backlund - Matthew Tkachuk Milan Lucic - Derek Ryan - Dillon Dube Sam Bennett - Mark Jankowski - Tobias Rieder
Extra: Zac Rinaldo
Mark Giordano - TJ Brodie Noah Hanifin - Rasmus Andersson Derek Forbort - Erik Gustafsson
Extra: Michael Stone
Cam Talbot (starter) David Rittich
The Flames open their 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifier against the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday at 8:30 p.m. MT. You can watch the game on Sportsnet, listen on Sportsnet 960 THE FAN, and catch all the pre- and post-game action right here on CalgaryFlames.com.