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STAUFFER STUFF: Renewing a Rivalry

In his latest blog, Bob Stauffer talks about the importance of recent Oilers success in the Battle of Alberta

by Bob Stauffer / Special to EdmontonOilers.com

At the height of the glory era of the Oilers 1980's dynasty, Edmonton's chief rival was Calgary.

The two teams combined to represent the Campbell Conference in every Stanley Cup Final from 1983 to 1990 with the Oilers of course winning five Stanley Cups and the Flames one. To this day, Oilers players from those teams will tell you it was those games against Calgary that defined you.

With excitement brewing in both cities in the here and now, with both teams legitimate threats -- in my opinion -- to win the Pacific Division, the Oilers sweep (for the second consecutive pre-season) in a pair of split squad games on Monday night should not go unnoticed.

Dating back to the Penticton Rookie Tournament last year, the Oilers are now 10-0 against the Flames in their last 10 meetings.

Edmonton went 7-0 overall last season, including sweeping the Flames for the first time ever during the regular season (4-0) and outscoring them 21-11 in the process.

The Oilers finished nine points ahead of the Flames in 2016-17; the head-to-head match-up basically was the difference. Both the Oilers and the Flames made concerted efforts to improve their teams in the off-season, with Calgary upgrading their defence and goaltending situations.

The Flames sent a "light" line-up to Rogers Place with the Oilers dressing a higher-end squad, and the result was somewhat predictable with the Oilers building up a 5-0 lead, before the Flames got a couple late ones in garbage time. Down at the Saddledome though, the Flames had five of their top six forwards, their top four D considered by some to amongst the best in the NHL, and number one goaltender Mike Smith. However, it would be the Oilers who built up a 5-2 lead, highlighted by a brilliant individual effort from 2017 first round pick Kailer Yamamoto en route to a 5-4 victory.

The cynic would look at this and say, "who cares" it's exhibition season and it is about individual talent evaluation. But to me there is a bigger theme at play here, because of the respect I have for the Flames.

Again, I think Calgary will push the Anaheim Ducks and the Oilers for top spot in the Pacific Division.

Last season, Anaheim came in first in the Pacific for the fifth consecutive season, finishing two points ahead of the Oilers. When Oilers General Manager Peter Chiarelli executed the Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson trade, he mentioned that he was trying to build a team that could win in the Pacific.

The Oilers dramatically improved in that area last season.

After going just 13-36-9 in the Division over two seasons from 2014 thru 2016, Edmonton had the best head-to-head record versus the Pacific last season: 20-6-3.

Under Chiarelli and Head Coach Todd McLellan the Oilers have attempted to rebuild a team with greater depth and improved culture. The organization is still really in a growth phase, though everyone expects the team to be quite competitive this season.

So getting the season off to the right start, even if we are talking about a Rookie Tournament or a pair of split-squad games, is important. It is all part of the process of creating a winning environment.

Quick Hits

In March of 2012, I attended a game in Denver with then-Oilers GM Steve Tambellini between a Wisconsin team that featured Justin Schultz and the hometown Pioneers.

Schultz was on everyone's radar screen as an Anaheim pick who might become a free agent, but there was an undersized D-Man on Denver who was every bit as noticeable: Joey Laleggia.

Fast forward five plus years later and the Oilers 2012, fifth round pick is pushing to get in the mix with the Oilers as a converted forward.

Laleggia scored 20 goals last season in the AHL in his first season transitioning from D to forward. He can skate, he is smart and has the ability to make quick decisions under duress which in theory could help get games with the Oilers at some point this season.

The Pittsburgh Penguins have gotten significant contributions from the Connor Shearys and Bryan Rusts of the world; smaller, older NCAA players.

Perhaps Laleggia has a shot as the Oilers version of that.

Video: OILERS TODAY: Face-off Violations

There was a combined 33 power plays awarded on Monday night in the split-squad games between the Oilers and the Flames as the NHL enforced new standards for stick infractions and face-offs.

Don't see eight power plays per team per game continuing into the regular season, but if there are increased power plays and tougher face-off regulations, both will help the Oilers.

Edmonton finished fifth in the NHL last season on the PP at 22.9% and were a top-two team from December 1 on once Mark Letestu was inserted onto the first unit.

Conversely, the Oilers finished dead last in the face-off circle at 47.0% and it played a factor in their PK finishing 18th overall. A new standard will limit some of the cheating that savvy veterans deploy to win draws.

This certainly should help Connor McDavid (20), Leon Draisaitl (21) and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (24) who are looking to improve upon their 2016-17 face-off numbers. 

Bob Stauffer is Radio Analyst of the Oilers Broadcasts on the Oilers Radio Network and Host of "Oilers Now" Monday thru Friday Noon to 2:00 PM on 630 CHED. You can follow him on twitter at @Bob_Stauffer

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