EDMONTON - The Oilers continue their run of games inside the Northwest Division with the first of a home-and-home set with the Calgary Flames.
Calgary has the decided edge in head-to-head match-ups in recent times, having won 10 of the last 12 meetings between the teams. However, the Oilers have taken two of the last three and the Flames come into Rexall Place without Jarome Iginla on the roster for the first time in years.
"For us, players can be hurt and not be part of a team also so it's always the group that matters to us," cautioned Oilers head coach Ralph Krueger. "What's going on in their dynamic is more what they have to deal with. What we do is we respect what they are as a group and as a team and nothing changes for us how we prepare for them."
For all their struggles this season, the Flames do have 93 goals scored on the year, averaging nearly three goals for per game which ranks in the NHL's top 10.
"Their defence is extremely dangerous on the attack. They're a good offensive team -- they're ranked ninth in the league in goals for, we respect that. The danger of Kiprusoff on a good day or (Joey) MacDonald, whoever starts today, we're well aware of their potential."
Ryan Smyth added that although the Flames can't be underestimated, it will be different lining up against the Flames without Iginla in the lineup.
"We were doing our meeting this morning and you see no Iginla in the lineup. It's a huge difference for sure, especially the Battle of Alberta. It's a big rivalry and he was a big part of it," said Smyth.
The standings in the Western Conference remain jam packed with the Oilers tied for 10th and two points behind eighth-place Columbus. Edmonton has 35 points and are tied with Dallas and Nashville. St. Louis has 36 points, Columbus 37 and Phoenix has 34. Calgary sits with 30 points.
"Whether the team is above or below us, it's important to maintain respect. What we have to do is show up today and compete very hard," said Krueger. "We have to look every team in the eyes and understand that this is an unbelievably balanced Western Conference this year. There's no easy night, ever, against anybody. Whether they're above or below you."
Krueger was also asked what type of improvements he's seen in the team from the start of the season as they are currently enjoying their best stretch of the campaign with a 6-2-2 record in their past 10 games.
"We're a much more controlled team in what we want to do," he said. "What I mean by controlled is understanding what it takes offensively and defensively as a group to have success. That understanding is in the room now and it's been in that room, you can feel it over the past 10 games. The corrections are coming from the team, that's the big difference. Earlier in the season it would have been coming from the coaches. We would have been the ones on the video and we would have been the ones in practices. But now, the language on the bench is outstanding. When we start going astray, it's the players in front of us that are saying the messages that need to be said. That shows you that we've come a long way."
This morning, the Oilers announced the signing of Ladislav Smid to a new four-year contract with an AAV of $3.5 million. Krueger was happy for the blueliner.
"I worked with Laddy for two years as an associate coach so I spent a lot of time with Ladislav Smid in that role and now as a head coach," he said. "He's a player who really defines the work ethic. He brings an unbelievable base to the season. He works as hard as anybody in the off-season. He continues that work off the ice right through the season. Just physically, he's an example. His battle level and doing the things the team needs from him."
Smid was thrilled that the signing came down before the trade deadline.
"It's a huge relief for me, obviously. I didn't want to think about it too much in the past month but it was in the back of my mind. I just feel really happy for me and my family. We're going to get to stay here in Edmonton. It's our home now and I'm going to get to grow up with this young group of players so it's a great feeling," Smid began, adding that negotiations weren't too much of a distraction overall.
"It was between me and my agent and the Oilers and at the end of the day it worked out for everyone so I think both sides are happy."
Smyth added that Smid's teammates are thrilled with the signing.
"It's a great signing for us. He's a warrior, in my mind. He plays against the top forwards all the time and takes a beating with the blocked shots. He's a great competitor."
Krueger added that Smid is a leader by example in the room.
"His acceptance of being a penalty killer, playing against top lines of the other team, blocking shots, finishing hits, playing through injuries, that's Ladislav Smid and he's still a young player relative to his position. That's an excellent signing for the future."
HALL NAMED THIRD STAR
Taylor Hall was named by the NHL as their Third Star of the Week today after a week that saw him tied for the league lead with five goals and second with eight points. Hall was honoured for the recognition but said most importantly it came in games that meant something.
"It's a lot of fun to be playing these games here late in the year," said Hall. "We've said it all along, just to be able to play meaningful games (late) is something new and challenging for us. We took a little bit of a break as a line and we're coming back and I think we're just fresh. We really like playing together. I think each one of us brings something different to the table and we're having a lot of offensive zone time. And goals are going in, which is a nice change from the start of the year."
Hall scored three goals on Saturday in the game's opening 7:53, eclipsing Wayne Gretzky's franchise record of 12:38 set on Dec. 17, 1986, against the Quebec Nordiques. Hall shrugged it off, however.
"He has so many records that they're bound to get broken once in awhile," he remarked. "After a game like that you try and just lay low and not think about it too much and just try and carry that confidence into your next game. Certainly, breaking a record like that -- and most importantly having a win -- is huge for our team."
The Oilers will be going with the same lineup tonight as they had against Vancouver:
Hall - Nugent-Hopkins - Eberle Paajarvi - Gagner - Hemsky Jones - Horcoff - Yakupov Petrell - Smyth - Brown
Smid - Petry Schultz - Schultz Whitney - Potter
-- Marc Ciampa, edmontonoilers.com
NHL.COM GAME PREVIEW
Last 10: Calgary 4-6-0; Edmonton 6-2-2
Season series: Second of four meetings between these Northwest Division rivals, and the beginning of a home-and-home. Lee Stempniak had a goal and two assists to lead the Flames to a 4-3 win in Calgary on Jan. 26.
Big story: The first edition of the Battle of Alberta in ages to be staged without Jarome Iginla on the Flames' roster features the Oilers trying to continue their push at a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Calgary actually has one more regulation/OT win this season (13 to 12), but Edmonton has taken advantage of picking up a point out of seven of its losses to hold a five-point edge over its provincial rival.
Flames: It remains to be seen if Calgary will continue to be in "sell" mode in these final days leading up to the NHL Trade Deadline at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, but in their first game after dealing Iginla to Pittsburgh, the Flames lost 6-4 on home ice to the Blue Jackets and currently sit just two points ahead of the 15th-place Avalanche in the Western Conference standings. Defenseman Jay Bouwmeester and forward Mike Cammalleri are prime targets to be playing their final game in a Flames uniform.
"We can make excuses. We can say what we want about what's happened, the speculation, but at the end of the day, as players, we've got to come out and play hard," forward Matt Stajan said following Friday's defeat.
Oilers: An early four-goal blitz against Vancouver on Saturday night and steady play from Devan Dubnyk in net powered Edmonton to a 4-0 victory, its third in a row. Taylor Hall and Ladislav Smid scored on the Oilers' first two shots against Cory Schneider, who was chased just 2:05 into the game. They didn't let up on his replacement, Roberto Luongo, as Hall completed his hat trick before eight minutes of game time had elapsed. Dubnyk never let the Canucks get any thoughts about a comeback, stopping 23 shots for his sixth career shutout.
"It was fun to be a part of," Dubnyk said. "We were just doing everything right. We continued to do good things all game."
Who's hot: Hall is heating up for the Oilers with five goals and three assists during a four-game points streak. He also set an Edmonton record Saturday for fastest hat trick from the start of a game, breaking a mark held by Wayne Gretzky.
"Any time you can break one of 'The Great One's' records is a huge honor," Hall said.