News and notes from around the Oilers, including a look at how the club's prospects attending the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship in the Czech Republic fared in Day 1 of the tournament on Thursday.
The Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames have waited until the end of December to renew their rivalry tonight in the first Battle of Alberta of the season at Rogers Place, with four more meetings still to come in the final half of the '19-20 NHL campaign.
With all that can be made each time these two provincial rivals intersect in one of hockey's most heated rivalries, tonight's clash will be ripe with storylines.
The first meeting of the season between the Oilers and Flames comes with both clubs separated by one point in the Pacific Division, meaning the Battle of Alberta will take on extra importance for the Oilers tonight and with four more renditions slated to be played in their final 41 games of the campaign.
"We're used to playing Calgary pretty early in the year, so to get them at this time of the year at the halfway point, with both teams really close in the standings, the points are very important," forward Zack Kassian said. "If you want to get into the playoffs, you have to do well in your divisional games. To get them right out of the break here is important."
Friday's matchup will also be Milan Lucic's first visit to Edmonton as a member of the Flames after a summer move down the Highway 2 in a trade for James Neal, who's recorded 16 goals and 23 points in 40 games for the Blue & Orange.
"When you get traded one-for-one, that's the way it's going to go. Especially when it's Edmonton and Calgary," Neal said of the spotlight. "I think the fans like it. On social media, they're going back and forth all the time, and they're passionate about their teams and want them to do well."
"I think for both of us we're focused on having a good game and doing what we can to help our team win."
Lucic suited up in 243 regular-season games over three seasons with the Oilers, deploying a physical game that always has to be accounted for by the opposition.
"He's obviously had a great career and he's a force on the ice every time he's out there," defenceman Darnell Nurse said. "He's always been a guy when you play against him, everyone's aware of when he's on the ice. He's a physical player. He's a guy that can swing games with his physical play. I don't think it's going to be any different tonight."
There's never a shortage of energy in contests between the Oilers and Flames, but having both teams coming off a three-day holiday break means it'll be at a premium. Tempering emotions and managing details will be paramount to putting together a game plan in the first game out of an extended layoff.
"Tonight we have to focus on getting some energy and prepared for a game where both teams have been off for three days," Head Coach Dave Tippett said. "From my experience, it ends up being a sloppy game, so take care of the details and make sure you're competing for pucks and not giving the game away rather than find a way to win a game."
BOUND BY THE BATTLE
Whether they like it or not, Milan Lucic and James Neal will always be connected after a trade back in July meant the pair would swap sides in the Battle of Alberta.
"Obviously you don't see it often between two rivals and two teams that are so close, but that's the nature of the business," Nurse said. "You play with guys, then the time comes and they move on. It could be anyone at any time. He was a great teammate. He's a great guy that we all respected a lot."
It's not the first meeting with your old club that's hard for Neal. Instead, it's the first time you venture into the old arena you used to call home.
The 32-year-old was traded from the Dallas Stars to the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2011 before being dealt to the Nashville Predators three seasons later.
"I think it's more weird than anything," Neal said of facing an old team. "I think it's always one of those games you want to get up for, but it's a little bit different. It's a little bit easier when you're at home and you're going through your normal routine, but it's different going to the rink you used to play in and you're walking on an opposing side."
Neal posted nine goals in his first eight games with the Oilers, erasing his previous season's total of seven with the Flames in a matter of single-digit games.
As an Oiler, Neal occupies a top power-play role and a top-six duties after admitting his fit in Calgary wasn't ideal after signing a five-year contract with Edmonton's provincial rivals.
"I think getting that chance to play and going out there having the ability to play a lot more is the biggest thing," Neal said of his rebound as an Oiler. "I think getting an opportunity on the first power play is obviously huge, but being surrounded by a lot of great players that are helping me out too. I had a good summer, came back in focused, and ready to go.
"Last year was hard and obviously wasn't a good fit feeling like I wasn't getting that chance, and as a player you want that chance. I got that here, and it's worked out well."
What Neal's 16 goals this season for his new Oilers side hasn't done for his value in the locker room, he supplements with an easy-going attitude towards his teammates and the occasional verbal jab met with good intentions.
"He's an awesome guy. He's fun to be around and likes to keep it light," Kassian said of Neal. "You guys don't get to see that side of the game. You see him every day on the ice, but we spend a lot of time together away from the rink. It's important to have good locker room guys, and he's one of them.
"He's always cracking jokes, doesn't take things too seriously away from the rink, and I know the guys enjoy him. He's a little bit of a chirper and can get under your skin on a daily basis, but he's fun. He's been great for us."
Mikko Koskinen is expected to make his 23rd start of the season tonight against Calgary. The Finnish netminder is 13-7-2 with a 2.66 goals-against average and .917 save percentage.
The Oilers and Flames line up for the first Battle of Alberta of the season on Friday only one point apart in the Pacific Division.
After waiting until Dec. 27 for the first Battle of Alberta, the two provincial rivals will wage war four more times in the season's final half (Jan. 11, Jan. 29, Feb. 1, Apr. 4).
The two rivals split their season series last campaign, with both clubs winning once on the road and both Mikko Koskinen and David Rittich earning the wins for their teams.
Alex Chiasson was the only Oiler to record a point per game with two goals and two assists in four games against Calgary last year.
Oilers team scope:
The Oilers are 2-5-2 in their last nine games after losing out on the road 4-2 to the Vancouver Canucks in their final match before Christmas back on Dec. 23.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Oscar Klefbom both recorded the tallies for the Oilers in defeat, while assists for Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl increased their league-leading totals to 62 and 61, respectively.
The Oilers are 9-4-0 in their last 13 games versus Calgary and 5-1-0 in their last six at Rogers Place against their provincial rivals. Overall on home ice in '19-20, the Oilers are 9-7-3.
Flames team scope:
A 3-0 loss to the Minnesota Wild on Monday was the Flames' fifth shutout defeat this season - tied for most in the NHL.
The Flames are 1-3-1 in their last five games after going 8-0-1 between Nov. 22 and Dec. 12, but Calgary has been able to post victories in five of its last seven road stops.
Matthew Tkachuk has 12 points (4G, 8A) in his last 12 games and four points (3G, 1A) in 10 career games against the Oilers.
By the Numbers:
Flames' 2.59 goals per game are the fifth-fewest in the NHL this season. ... The Oilers are allowing the second-most goals against per game at home (3.53) this season. ...
Oilers are 36-for-121 (29.8 percent) on the power play this season - highest in the NHL - and have scored a PPG in 10 of their last 12 games. ... Edmonton's seventh-ranked penalty kill has only converted at a rate of 11-for-18 in its last 11 games and 1-for-7 in its last four on home ice. ...