The Edmonton Oilers take on the Calgary Flames tonight in their first meeting of the regular season between the two intra-provincial rivals. The long-time rivals are each on a five-game skid heading into tonight's 'Battle of Alberta'.
"I've played a lot of games against Calgary," said Oilers veteran forward Ales Hemsky. "It's always intense. It doesn't matter what kind of record we have or they have. We need to win the game. We have to focus from the start."
Looking back to last night's 3-1 loss to the San Jose Sharks, there were some positives for the Oilers but for Head Coach Dallas Eakins, it's time to stop taking positives from losses and start getting wins.
"We need to play like we did in the second and third," said Eakins. "We can't seem to get 60 minutes together. It's actually not even 60 minutes. It's the players with their own minutes. Taylor Hall is going to play 21, Ference is going to play 20, Will Acton is going to play eight minutes. That's the full minutes from all of our players. With that, it will equate to the full 60 but, we can't keep putting up 40 minutes or 50 minutes of good play and taking positives out of losses. It's tiresome. No one wants to hear you did some good things but you lost. We need the two points and that's the bottom line."
The Oilers will attempt to keep their forward lines the same as last night to gain continuity and chemistry between players, particularly with the top line of Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle.
"We're keeping those three together. We're going to keep, hopefully, the same lines going. We want to get some continuity with those three. We'll keep (Sam) Gagner's line together as well. We'll see how the other ones shake up here with the injuries."
Long-time Oiler and defenceman Ladislav Smid will face is former team for the first time since being traded to the Flames on November 8. Smid's former teammate and close friend Hemsky says it will be weird seeing him in a different uniform.
"It'll be kind of weird," said Hemsky. "I've spent seven years with him over here. We're from the same country so we spent a lot of time together. Obviously it'll be weird to see him on the other side, but it'll be fun."
Hemsky had dinner with Smid the night he was traded.
"We were supposed to go for dinner and he text me saying he got traded to Calgary. I didn't really believe him. What are the chances you get traded from Edmonton to Calgary? It's pretty low. Then he told me in the lobby and we went for dinner and talked about it. He was kind of down, but it's a new chance for him."
The Oilers head coach sees it differently, and although he has glowing reviews of his ex-player, says that it won't be a weird situation seeing Smid in Calgary red.
"It's not weird at all," said Eakins. "He's a player for the other team now. I will say this about Ladi Smid, I only got a short sample of coaching that young man. He's a guy of such high character, a great guy in the dressing room, a guy that battled hard for us every night and cared about the group. He was vocal when he needed to be vocal in the dressing room and, for me, he was a great, great pleasure to coach for just a short time.
"When he left, I wished him well and let him know that I was always here if I could help him in any way. I hope he has great, great days for the Calgary Flames except on the days we play them."
STILL UNCERTAIN ON KLEFBOM
With no word yet on whether an undisclosed ailing defenceman will be able to suit up tonight, Oilers rookie Oscar Klefbom still awaits word on whether or not he will play tonight in Calgary.
"We'll see," said Klefbom. "I just try to be as prepared as I can to play every game. It's up to the coaches when I'm going to play."
"If our d-man is deemed unable to go, then Oscar will play," said the Oilers head coach. "If our d-man is fine, Oscar won't."
Klefbom says even if he doesn't make his NHL debut tonight, this has been an exciting experience.
"Yesterday was a pretty exciting day. I did the pre-game skate with the OKC Barons and then got the call-up, so I was pretty excited. It's good to be here with all the guys. It's a good experience."
With the Oilers General Manager making statements during the week that the team was on the prowl for a big, strong defenceman, the former 19th overall draft pick is eager to try and fill that void.
"I think so, and I hope so too. It's up to the coaches to decide who's playing, but I do the best I can to be prepared for every game."
WHAT KLEFBOM WORKED ON THE MOST
During his time in the minors with the Oklahoma City Barons this season, Klefbom has focused on polishing his overall game.
"Strong, heavy and win the battles in the corners," said Klefbom. "Stay strong in front of the net. I did a lot of details work with the coaches as well after practices. Right now I feel pretty good."
The rookie says his time in the AHL has helped him get better and better.
"It's a really good team down there and a really good opportunity to be a better player. I had really good coaches as well who helped me a lot with all the details I had to improve to be a better player. I think it's helped me a lot. I just want to be as prepared as I can to come up to Edmonton and play some games."
-- Chris Wescott, edmontonoilers.com
NHL.COM GAME PREVIEW
OILERS (4-15-2) at FLAMES (6-10-3)
Last 10: Edmonton 1-8-1; Calgary 2-7-1
Season series: It's round one of the Battle of Alberta between the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames. They split four games last season, with each team winning once in the other's building. Edmonton has won four of the past six games after the Flames took nine in a row.
Big story: It's been a tough first few weeks of the season for Alberta's teams. The Flames are 3-10-1 after a 3-0-2 start and are coming off a 7-3 steamrolling by the Dallas Stars at Scotiabank Saddledome on Thursday, their fifth loss in a row. The Oilers scored a goal at home Friday night after three consecutive shutout losses at Rexall Place, but their 3-1 loss to the San Jose Sharks was their fifth consecutive defeat.
Oilers: The good news in Edmonton was that the Oilers finally scored a goal at Rexall Place; Nail Yakupov's power-play goal in the second period was the Oilers' first goal at home in four games. The bad news was that it was the only puck they were able to get past San Jose backup goaltender Alex Stalock, and it came after the Sharks had a 3-0 lead.
The loss dropped the Oilers to last place in the overall standings.
"We're all trying real hard," forward Taylor Hall said, "but there's something that's not clicking for us, and we have to figure out what it is.
"I've been around for so many losses that you kind of put yourself in a tailspin of wondering what it is. It's really hard. We're trying the best we can here, but we're not winning games. At the end of the day, that's all that matters. "
Flames: One day after watching his team get routed by the Stars, not only did coach Bob Hartley eschew a bag skate, he skipped any kind of skate. The Flames had meetings, video sessions and off-ice work, but they didn't hit the ice.
Hartley knows there's no guarantee he made the right move by giving his team a break. But after watching his team surrender four goals to Dallas' Tyler Seguin and six points to Jamie Benn, he felt he had to do something different.
"You have to make decisions," he told the media Friday. "What works, you don't know. I'll be able to tell you what we've done today, if it worked after [the game Saturday]. Right now, we can all look and we can be all experts after around 10:30 [Saturday] night. If it works, what a great call. If it didn't work, well, [I] should've bagged them."
Who's hot: Yakupov has goals in two of the Oilers' past three games. … Matt Stajan had two of the Flames' three goals Thursday. …