EDMONTON, AB - Tonight, the Oilers will host the Calgary Flames, who are coming off a 2-1 loss to New Jersey last night. Edmonton is wary of teams coming off back-to-backs, knowing they'll need a fast start to take advantage.
"You have to try to jump on them early, kind of wear them down," said Oilers captain Connor McDavid. "They played last night and we could use that to our advantage but at the same time, teams play so many back-to-backs now that I think everyone's used to it, so it's not a huge deal."
"Any time you're playing a team on a back-to-back, you want to try and get on them as early as possible and take their legs out of it right way and take away their confidence," said Oilers forward Drake Caggiula. "We want to make sure we have a strong start. We've been slacking in that area the last little bit, but we need to make sure we come out hard and kind of take the wind out of their sails right away."
REIGNITING THE RIVALRY
When cultivating a rivalry, the best kindling for the fire may just be the success of the two teams. When one or both franchises are struggling to stay afloat in the playoff race, the games lack the same meaning.
Now that the two clubs have their own groups of young talent and both are pushing hard for a spot in the dance, things can start to heat up.
"I think when the two teams are battling for a playoff spot, it's definitely going to add to that rivalry," said Caggiula. "Maybe in past years, when the teams weren't doing so well it kind of disappears for a little bit, but when both teams are right there it definitely adds to the excitement. The tempo is going to pick up for sure."
"You don't really build it until you get truly competitive and have the ability to push at the end of the season for a spot or eventually play against each other," said Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan. "Both Alberta teams have done a good job to work into that spot in mid-January at least. I'm sure it's both our goals to continue to do that and perhaps meet. The way the playoffs are set up now, the divisions play each other and there's a chance that could happen.
"We're both in January, we're both dealing with the present and, ironically, we only play them four times this year, which is different with someone that close to you. We get this Saturday, next Saturday and then who knows? Maybe there will be Saturdays in April or May in the near future where we can really create a rivalry."
The Oilers players in the dressing room are eager to change the narrative of a rivalry that has been somewhat dormant in recent history.
"I think we're going to embrace the moment," said Oilers centre Mark Letestu. "The community is already talking about it, you can tell. I'm sure the building's going to be rocking because they've been looking forward to these rivalry games for a while now. With both teams contending, what it means in the standings, there's a lot at stake and that's the kind of games both franchises want to be playing. Embrace it, maybe harness some of the emotion that might be in the building, make for a good game tonight."
A PAIR OF FIRSTS
Two Oilers rookies will get their first real tastes of the Battle of Alberta. They may have seen the Flames in the pre-season, but both Caggiula and Matt Benning are playing in their first regular season tilts versus the Flames.
"The last couple of times we played Calgary I wasn't in the lineup so this was definitely exciting for me," said Benning. "I know what the rivalry is all about, being from Edmonton and knowing the Battle of Alberta rivalry they have. It will be an exciting one tonight."
"Growing up in Ontario, I'd always stay up to watch that second game on Hockey Night in Canada," said Caggiula. "You'd always see Edmonton-Calgary or Edmonton-Vancouver. You could see the heated rivalry that was brewing up, and they're right down the road. It's definitely a big rivalry and the games are always tough and hard to play in. I think those are the kind of games this team will thrive in."
The Oilers will be without two of the players who suited up for them in their last game. Defenceman Adam Larsson will not play, as he's dealing with a lower-body injury. It's a big blow for the Oil.
"You put bodies in, but you don't replace him," said McLellan. "You do things more by committee. Our pairs will be distributed tonight based on how they're performing, more than set pairs. You don't replace him, so hopefully it's short term."
Jujhar Khaira will also miss tonight's game, dealing with an illness. Cam Talbot was the first goalie off the ice at morning skate.
-- Chris Wescott, edmontonoilers.com
OILERS (22-15-7) vs. FLAMES (23-20-2)
TV: 8:00 p.m. MST; Televised on CBC
Tonight's game marks the third of four meetings between the Oilers and Flames this season and the final meeting in Edmonton. The last time these teams met in Edmonton was on October 12th to open the 2016-17 seaon. The Oilers won by a score of 7-4 and Connor McDavid (2G, 1A) and Kris Russell (2A) posted multi-point games in the win.
The last time these teams met was on October 14th in Calgary, where the Oilers defeated the Flames by a score of 5-3. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl posted three-point nights and Jordan Eberle and Milan Lucic also recorded a multi-point game.
Oilers team scope:
The Oilers come into this game one point behind San Jose for second in the Pacific Division and three back of Anaheim for first.
Forwards Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are both within two points of registering their 100th career NHL point.
Against New Jersey on Jan. 12, Draisaitl registered three points (1G, 2A), including the game-winning goal in overtime. Meanwhile team captain McDavid had two assists, including one on Draisaitl's overtime winner.
Both players are now at 98 career NHL points, two points from 100. McDavid has 30 goals and 68 assists in 89 games, while Draisaitl has 36 goals and 61 assists in 153 games.
McDavid now has 16 multi-point games this season, ranking first in the NHL. Draisaitl now has eight multi-point games, and ranks 29th overall.
McDavid continues to lead the NHL scoring race. He now has 50 points (14G, 36A) in 44 games. He has a five point lead on Crosby (PIT), Malkin (PIT) and Kane (CHI). McDavid has led the league in scoring at some point in all four months of the 2016-17 season.
McDavid leads all Oilers forwards in average time on ice (21:13) and ranks fifth in the NHL. His season high (26:43) came on Dec. 31 against Vancouver. The native of Newmarket turned 20 years old on Friday, Jan. 13, 2017.
Forward Patrick Maroon registered his 17th goal of the season on Jan. 12 vs. New Jersey, adding to his career best, which was 12 prior to 2016-17. It was his sixth goal in six games since the start of 2017, more than any other NHL player.
With 17 goals, the St. Louis native leads the Oilers and is tied with McDavid for the best plus-minus rating at +13. His 16 even-strength goals ranks him tied for fourth overall in the NHL.
In 60 games since joining Edmonton in a trade, Maroon has 38 points (25G, 13A), averaging 0.63 points a game. Prior to joining the Oilers, he had been averaging 0.38 points a game.
Flames team scope:
After a slow start to the season, the Calgary Flames worked their way back into the playoff picture and sit fourth in the Pacific Division, three points behind the third-place Oilers.
Calgary was 5-10-1 16 games into the season but since that time they are 18-10-1 and have climbed into the first wild card spot in the Western Conference.
Goaltender Chad Johnson is having an outstanding season with a 15-10-1 record, 2.25 goals-against average and .924 save percentage, although he did play last night against New Jersey which means the Oilers could see Brian Elliott between the pipes.
Elliott is 8-10-1 with a 2.95 goals-against average and .889 save percentage.
Mikael Backlund leads the Flames in both goals and points with 12 goals and 29 points on the season. His previous career highs were set last season when he scored 21 goals and 49 points.
Johnny Gaudreau has 10 goals and 27 points in 35 games this year to rank tied for second on the club in points. Rookie Matthew Tkachuk is having an outstanding season with 27 points (8 goals, 19 assists) in 41 games. Tkachuk is tied for fourth in the NHL in rookie scoring.