- "At our expense, [Calgary is] growing and getting better," said Jordan Eberle
who, through 29 games this season, has notched 11 goals and 31 points as the NHL's seventh most productive scorer.
Following a well-deserved 4-1 win one night ago at Rexall Place against the Colorado Avalanche, another Northwest Division rival stands as the orange and blue's next assignment; Round 3 of the Battle of Alberta goes tonight, as the Oilers hope to break a season-long donut in the win column vs. Calgary.
"I watched them the other night and they played a pretty complete game," Eberle said of the Flames. "They're a divisional game, a four-point game. The standings are always close and it seems to be like that each year. You need wins like this to pull ahead of teams, so this is a big game.
"They're a team that has our number right now. We've got to change that."
The Flames have come out with wins in both meetings this season, with the last coming a week ago in Oil Country as the visitors skated to a 5-3 triumph. As No. 14 explains, Calgary's commitment to quelling the Oilers' potent power-play played an integral role; in that matchup, the home side squandered six separate chances.
"You're not going to score every time, but the biggest thing is that you don't want to lose momentum," he said. "We hadn't been doing that. We'd been getting entry pretty easy and setting up. I think the quality of our shots hadn't been the best and we weren't getting second opportunities."
In knowing it will be a critical component again tonight, Eberle stressed the importance of making good when the chances come.
"When you get on the road, your power-play is that much more important because you don't get as many 5-on-5 opportunities, and you have to bury them on the power-play. If we get the opportunity, we want to take it to them.
"We need this game."
Having lost 14 of the last 15 meetings with the Flames, the Oilers know there's some added incentive to tonight's sure-to-be intense matchup. With a 13-13-2 record, Calgary has ascended the NHL's Western Conference standings and are hot on the Oilers' heels.
"They're not happy with us, but neither are we with them, so we're going to do something about that tonight," Head Coach Tom Renney said as he addressed the media at the team's hotel. "With all due respect to the Flames, we have a tendency to beat ourselves when we play them. If we can eliminate that process, I think we've got a shot at beating them." Eric Belanger
, who's still a rookie by Battle of Alberta standards, agreed with his coach's assessment. It's not hard to get up for a game in which post-season positioning bears importance.
Not to mention the ever-evolving role of bragging rights and plain disdain. Everyone revels in that.
"It is fresh," No. 20 said, looking back at last week's loss to the Flames. "It's a big rivalry and a divisional game; those guys have been playing better lately, too.
"We have to make sure we want it more than they do." LINEUP NOTES
"Let's wait," Renney laughed as he was prodded to reveal tonight's starting goalie. "Let's wait on that one." Nikolai Khabibulin
earned his 10th win of the season last night, matching his 2010-11 total in only 19 starts (it took him 47 to reach that mark last year). The 38-year-old veteran is expected to get the start, looking to improve on his 10-6-3 record, 1.95 goals-against average and .933 save percentage.
While most of the team caught up on sleep at the team's hotel, the Oilers did hold an optional morning skate. Magnus Paajarvi
tagged along, skating with Taylor Hall
, Corey Potter
and Andy Sutton
. It's expected that No. 91 will be the odd-man out, as Darcy Hordichuk
will slot back in on the fourth line.
"I'm going to make a game-time decision on that," Renney explained. "Maggie (Magnus Paajarvi
) skated and he'll also take the warm-up here. We'll see how it goes."
Looking to ignite the Oilers' physical game and round-out the team's four-line attack, Renney is eager to see how his group will respond against a physical, veteran-laden Flames squad in tonight's contest.
"I think so," he said, regarding his team's growth in matching a more experienced opponent. "That's what we're all about here. We can lean on people, we can create an advantage by using the size, strength and skill we have. As long as we do that and manage the puck accordingly, we'll give ourselves a chance to beat our nemesis here." -- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com
- Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick