News, notes and more from Oilers practice on Friday, including new power play units and the appointment of head coach Todd McLellan to coach of the Under-23 North American team at the World Cup of Hockey.
CALGARY, AB - The fifth game of the Oilers season brings them to Calgary for the first instalment of the 2015-16 Battle of Alberta series against the Flames.
“It’s a big game for us. Obviously, the Flames and the Oilers, there’s a lot of history involved there,” said Oilers winger Matt Hendricks.
For Edmonton, there are several new faces on the roster making their Battle of Alberta debuts with the orange and blue.
One of them is 2015 first-overall pick Connor McDavid, who embraces the chance to play in a heated rivalry.
“That’s what the game is all about; that intensity,” said McDavid. “The Battle of Alberta brings that out and I’m certainly excited to play in it.”
At 18, a rivalry like this one with so much history can be intimidating. But the Oilers feel the schedule so far has helped McDavid adjust quickly to life in the NHL, playing against physicality. So far, the Oilers have had two games against the St. Louis Blues and have played Nashville and Dallas.
“Connor has played in some tough games already,” said Hendricks. “He knows what it’s like. He knows what the NHL is like. You go up against St. Louis in St. Louis and Nashville in Nashville and those are tough teams, big teams. He’s seen, in my opinion, teams as good as hockey teams get. Nashville and St. Louis are great hockey teams and Dallas is a great hockey team too. They’re playing very well right now as well. I think four games in now he kind of has a feel for it.”
Making his Battle of Alberta coaching debut is Oilers bench boss Todd McLellan. The Oilers coach has faced the Flames many times before when he was with San Jose, but tonight has a different feel to it.
“We’ve had some really good battles in this building, it just wasn’t with the Oilers,” said McLellan. “I think every team in the league has their natural rival and the intensity is at an all-time high when those teams get together. I expect it to be the same here tonight. They’ve had a rich tradition over the years. Calgary has done a good job of re-tooling their lineup and getting their team into the playoffs and we’re striving to do that right now. It should be a good game.”
YOUTH ON DISPLAY
The Oilers and Flames each boast their fair share of young talent. In addition to McDavid, the Oilers, of course, have players like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall and Nail Yakupov. On the Flames side of things, Calgary has Sean Monahan and Sam Bennett, among others. It makes for a good showcase of the next generation of NHL stars.
“There is a lot of youth that’s in tonight’s game,” said McLellan. “The future of the NHL, at least from an Alberta perspective, is on display. Both teams, I believe, are trying to build through that youth and through the draft picks. It’s an important game for Calgary, it’s an important game for Edmonton, and maybe the NHL. Each market has their own sets of stars and their own stories. I know from our perspective, we’re looking at individual and collective improvement, which hopefully will lead us to some form of success and ultimately the win. That’s what our goals are.”
GETTING THAT FIRST WIN
The Oilers are 0-4-0 this season, despite playing some of the NHL’s better teams tough. Unfortunately, moral victories don’t mean anything in the standings and so the Oilers will try to get their first victory tonight.
“We’ve talked a lot about the process and all those cliche lines that everyone throws at you, but this is a big game,” said Hendricks. “We played pretty good hockey in three out of four games. We know this is a results-based business and we have to start winning hockey games. We need to continue like we did against St. Louis with that same detail in our game, that same sense of structure and continue to build. I think good things are going to happen with this team. It’s a bit of a learning curve right now that we’re going through and it’s a bit of a tough spell but we’ve got to fight our way out of it. Nobody is going to help us along.”
The Oilers may get a little help, however, in terms of fatigue for the Flames. They are on the tail end of a back-to-back, having lost in Winnipeg last night.
“It’s not going to change the way we go into the game,” said Hendricks. “I think we’re going to try to benefit from it early and try to get our legs under us early and go after them. Play an energy, speed, attacking game. Just try to get them on their heels all over the ice, in all three zones.”
Based on morning skate, the defensive pairings will stay the same and Rob Klinkhammer could replace Anton Slepyshev on the fourth line. Cam Talbot is expected to start.
-- Chris Wescott, edmontonoilers.com
OILERS (0-4-0) at FLAMES (1-3-0)
TV: CBC, SN1
Season series: The Calgary Flames swept the season series against the Edmonton Oilers in 2014-15, winning all five games and outscoring their provincial rival 21-8. Forward Joe Colborne, who has yet to play this season because of a broken thumb, led the Flames with four goals and seven points. Goaltender Jonas Hiller had a 1.50 goals-against average and .935 save percentage in four wins. Forward Jordan Eberle paced Edmonton with two goals and an assist.
Oilers team scope: A 4-2 loss to the St. Louis Blues on Thursday in its home opener has Edmonton still seeking its first victory, but coach Todd McLellan remains upbeat despite the slow start. "If they put their heads down and don't stick their chest out it's going to make it even tougher," McLellan told the team's website. "If they hold their heads high and come and compete as hard as they can and give us an opportunity for success, then we'll be OK. We knew that we had a lot of work to do here and that hasn't changed." The Oilers have scored five goals in the four losses and are 1-for-14 on the power play. No changes are expected to the forward lines, but the Oilers could debut new combinations on the power play, including the addition of forward Mark Letestu to the second unit. "It's going to be a work in progress until we can just flow and understand concepts," McLellan said. "It's going to take a while."
Flames team scope: Calgary returns home for the second of back-to-back games after losing 3-1 at the Winnipeg Jets on Friday. The Flames have one win through the first four games of the season and have lost two in a row, including 4-3 to the St. Louis Blues at home on Wednesday. The upside for Calgary is that captain Mark Giordano is rounding back into form. Giordano missed the final six weeks of the regular season and each of Calgary's 11 games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs after undergoing surgery to repair a torn biceps tendon. "This guy is catching up," coach Bob Hartley said following the loss to the Jets. "He's working so hard that it's not a concern on our side. That's why his ice time is not going down. We just need to keep playing him. [Friday] is a great indication that our captain is back on track." Hartley didn't disclose any potential lineup changes.