EDMONTON, AB - The Edmonton Oilers host the Calgary Flames in the fourth of five Battle of Alberta showdowns this season. The Oilers have earned five of a possible six points in the first three games against the Flames, this season.
A major point of emphasis in Edmonton’s locker room, following their morning skate, was that they wanted to catch Calgary in the standings. The Flames currently sit at 13th in the Western Conference with 51 points, and the Oilers are in 14th with 47.
“It’s always fun and it’s a team that we’re trying to catch right now in the standings and they’re certainly… probably don’t want to go where we are,” Oilers David Perron said. “We have to get the two points.”
Matt Hendricks is hoping a win over the Flames tonight would be a launching pad to more success in the closing stretch of the season.
“This is a good stepping stone for us for the rest of the season,” Hendricks said. “This is a team that’s just ahead of us in the standings, it’s a big game, it’s a rivalry, it’s exciting and we need to get back to play our A-brand of hockey.”
GETTING ON THE BOARD
The Oilers have been shutout eight times this season and Thursday night, a 3-0 loss to Minnesota, was their fifth time failing to score a goal at home. The Oilers players in the locker room recognize the problem and are focusing on rectifying it tonight.
“Especially as of late, we’ve had a lot of trouble scoring,” Jordan Eberle said. “I think teams go through this. We have been shutout quite a bit but it’s tough to put a pinpoint (on it). If think if I had to come up with one excuse, the power play hasn’t been very good. With the skill that we have on this team, that should be one of our strengths. I think if there’s any keys we need to focus on, especially tonight, that would be one.”
David Perron feels the team just needs to ‘get right back at it’ tonight.
“Obviously, our last game wasn’t very good for us,” Perron said. “It was a weird game in terms of not many scoring chances on both sides. (Minnesota) probably got the best quality of the chances but we weren’t able to put the puck in the net. With the guys that we have here, there shouldn’t be a game when we can’t score. We’ll look to end that tonight.”
Head Coach Dallas Eakins says that the perception of the Oilers may be wrong when it comes to scoring totals. Since the 2010 season, the Oilers have ranked 27th, 19th, 18th and rank 20th this season in total goals scored. Eakins talked about that history, this morning when discussing the team’s scoring output.
“I think there’s this perception of this team that it’s high scoring and run-and-gun team,” Eakins said. “I think we’ve been… playing as a run-and-gun team early in the season. It’s something that, we don’t ever want to take away our guys’ skill level. We don’t ever want to take away their creativity. We won’t do that. The one thing that we’ve asked them to do is get in their heads and try to forge an identity moving forward that we’re going to play defence first. We’re slowly getting there but the perception of this team, that we’re a high-scoring team, we’re not.
“If you look over the years, it’s there in the stats as well. With the personnel that we have, the guys that will be on those top-six forwards tonight, they can all score, they can all shoot, they can all make plays and we look to them to create that. That’s part of there burden but it’s what they enjoy doing and what they’ve done their whole careers and we need them to step up and create that offence without giving up anything, going the other way as well.”
HENDRICKS FIRST BATTLE OF ALBERTA
Out of all of the Oilers players in the locker room, Matt Hendricks may be the most fired up of all. This is Hendricks’ first taste of the Battle of Alberta rivalry.
“It’s a big game tonight,” Hendricks said. “I look forward to it. It’s my first time playing in this Alberta series. I’m excited. We need to come out and play with our energy right away, get our fans behind us, get our building behind us and things will happen. We’re definitely a better team when we play with the lead.”
Hendricks was acquired in a trade with Nashville in January. He has never been a part of the rivalry, but watched it while he was a member of other organizations. It is the type of physical rivalry that plays right into what the gritty forward likes best.
“Everyone around the league knows about it. You see it on Hockey Night in Canada all of the time and it’s an exciting series. The fans are very passionate about their hockey teams. It’s not only teams clashing out there, it’s also the fans and the city so it’s very exciting to be a part of.”
-- Chris Wescott, edmontonoilers.com
NHL.COM GAME PREVIEW
FLAMES (22-30-7) at OILERS (20-34-7)
Last 10: Calgary 6-4-0; Edmonton 5-4-1
Season series: This is the fourth of five games in the Battle of Alberta between the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers. The Oilers won two of the first three and shut out Calgary 2-0 in their most recent meeting on Dec. 27.
Big story: The Oilers and Flames have sputtered coming out of the Olympic break; each was shut out on home ice Thursday. The Oilers lost 3-0 to the Minnesota Wild in Edmonton, while the Los Angeles Kings beat the Flames 2-0 in Calgary.
Flames: At 22-30-7 and 13th in the Western Conference standings, the Stanley Cup Playoffs are a near-impossibility for the Flames. That hasn't stopped coach Bob Hartley from demanding a playoff-like atmosphere from his troops over the final 23 games of the season.
"I want them in a playoff mode," Hartley said. "It's going to be a gauge to where we're at, how we can cope with a playoff feeling. At the same time, I believe it's a great investment for everyone because let's face it, we have many young players who don't have or have very little NHL playoff experience.
"It's not NHL playoffs, but we're going to put ourselves in playoff mode."
Starting with the loss to the Kings, Hartley has broken down Calgary's remaining games into two seven-game segments, leaving the balance open to different options.
Oilers: Forward Nail Yakupov might have caught a break by avoiding one.
Yakupov had to leave the loss to the Wild after taking a shot from teammate Justin Schultz off the foot. But an initial X-ray showed no break.
"It happens sometimes and it's part of the game, part of hockey and sometimes shots will get your body or your legs when you stand in front of the net," Yakupov told the Oilers website. "It happens. It's OK. I think it will be better for sure and I'm just waiting to be in a game again and just play for the Oilers."
Still, Yakupov could miss the game against the Flames.
"I don't know," he said when asked if he would have to sit out. "I can't say anything now, but I hope not."
Who's hot: Before going pointless in back-to-back games to sandwich the Olympic break, Mikael Backlund had six goals and 10 points in six games for the Flames. … Though he has failed to record a point for the Oilers in six straight contests, Ales Hemsky scored three goals and added an assist for the Czech Republic in Sochi.
Injury report: Flames defenseman Chris Butler is expected to miss the game after sustaining an upper-body injury in the loss to the Kings. Brian McGrattan, who is also nursing an upper-body injury sustained in practice last week, has been cleared for contact but isn't expected to play. Goaltender Karri Ramo (lower body) and forward Curtis Glencross (lower body) are out. … Yakupov remains questionable and Oilers defenseman Philip Larsen is injured reserve with an undisclosed ailment.