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Battle of Alberta highlights start of NHL season

by Brian Hunter
FLAMES (0-0-0) at OILERS (0-0-0)
Season series:
Calgary won all six meetings last season between these Northwest Division rivals, the first time in the 29-year history of the Battle of Alberta that one team swept the series. The Flames got off on the right foot by winning a pair of shootouts by 4-3 final scores in the first eight days of the season. Miikka Kiprusoff was in net for five of the victories and Rene Bourque led all scorers with 6 goals, including a hat trick in a 4-1 win at Rexall Place on Dec. 28, 2009.

Big story: A pair of teams that didn't qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs a season ago start the 2010-11 campaign with much higher hopes. The Flames finished in a tie for ninth in the Western Conference, five points behind the eighth-place Avalanche, while the Oilers managed just 62 points, 30th and last in the entire League. However, they ended up with the No. 1 pick in the 2010 Entry Draft, which they turned into Taylor Hall. He's expected to make his NHL debut Thursday, along with fellow rookies Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi.
Team Scope:
Flames: Scoring goals was not a team strength for Calgary last season -- the Flames' average of 2.45 goals per game was better only than the Bruins' meager 2.39 output. They hope the offseason reacquisitions of Olli Jokinen and Alex Tanguay ignite the offense in general, and captain Jarome Iginla in particular. His 32 goals and 69 points in 2009-10 were nothing to sneeze at, but this is a guy who put up 89, 98 and 94 points the three seasons prior. Kiprusoff will keep the Flames in almost every game, but he can only stop pucks, not put them in the opposing net.

"It feels good. It's been a good preseason," Iginla said after the Flames beat the Oilers 1-0 on Sunday in the preseason finale for both teams. "We've adjusted things, we've worked on things and we're going to continue to do that. There were a lot of real positives out of this training camp."
Oilers: After a surprise run all the way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final in 2006, it's been downhill for Edmonton ever since, and rock bottom seemed to arrive last season. Goalie Nikolai Khabibulin, the big offseason signing, only played in 18 games before back problems which ultimately required surgery ended his season. He's healthy again and the young trio of Hall, Eberle and Paajarvi are expected to energize the team and the province. New coach Tom Renney had Hall and Eberle on a line with Shawn Horcoff and Paajarvi playing alongside Andrew Cogliano and Gilbert Brule during practice Tuesday.

"He's a great guy and he's done such a great job with me and Eberle," Hall said of Horcoff, who was named captain Wednesday. "It's just the little things that he does, just talking to me on the side and showing me drills and stuff like that that makes it a lot easier for us … I would be cheating myself if I didn't use that experience."
Who's hot: Kiprusoff appeared to be in midseason form Sunday when he stopped all 27 shots he faced and made a Tanguay goal stand up for Calgary. … Paajarvi's 3 goals paced Edmonton during the preseason and his 4 points put him in a five-way tie for the team lead.

Injury report: For the Flames, Jokinen (shoulder) and defenseman Adam Pardy (scratched cornea) is questionable, while forwards Daymond Langkow (neck), Matt Stajan (shoulder), David Moss (shoulder) and Ales Kotalik (knee) are all out. … The Oilers are expected to place forward Jean-Francois Jacques (back surgery) on injured reserve, while defenseman Ladislav Smid (nose/neck) is questionable.
Stat pack: Brendan Morrison, who just signed with Calgary on Monday, is a veteran of 829 NHL games with New Jersey, Vancouver, Anaheim, Dallas and Washington, recording 187 goals and 547 points. … Dustin Penner led Edmonton in almost all offensive categories last season, including goals (32), assists (31), points (63), power-play goals (9), shots (203) and shooting percentage (15.8 percent).
Puck drop: The Flames won all seven of their preseason games, but they're also a little banged up as the regular season commences.

"Someone asked today if you could be 0-7 in the preseason and have those five guys healthy or be 7-0 and have five guys hurt right now, which would you take?" assistant general manager Jay Feaster told the Calgary Herald. "I like winning. It makes for a more pleasant atmosphere around here when we win. But having those guys healthy would be great and that's where we want to be.

"At some point it's going to happen, but it's not going to happen in time for our opening roster."

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