Finally, the Battle of Alberta is here. The Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames will meet for the first of five meetings on the season tonight. The sides will meet twice in January and then once in both February and April to conclude the season series. They split the four games a season ago.
The Oilers are coming off of a tough 4-2 loss in Vancouver on Monday night. It was their first defeat when leading after two periods. The loss continued a tough stretch that has seen the Oilers go 2-5-2 in their last nine games. They are barely hanging onto a playoff spot as they conclude 2019.
Mikko Koskinen starts for the Oilers, while David Rittich gets the nod for Calgary.
Keys To The Game:
Edmonton: A complete commitment to team defense will be needed against a lethal Flames attack. Too often, the Oilers are giving up high-quality chances against thanks to forwards being lazy on the backcheck or simply missing their mark. Leon Draisaitl has been a key culprit. The Oilers need everyone pulling on the rope tonight to get these two critical points.
Calgary: Avoid a special teams battle. The Oilers are clearly the better team both on the powerplay and on the penalty kill. If the Flames keep this game at five-on-five, however, they should have a much better chance at winning. Edmonton has struggled in this game state recently.
Players To Watch:
Edmonton: The break could not have come at a better time for Leon Draisaitl. Edmonton’s other top forward has been bleeding goals against at an alarming rate, displaying fatigue and sometimes defensive indifference. Draisaitl is fresh, healthy and playing with McDavid tonight. That’s a recipe for an impact performance.
Calgary: Matthew Tkachuk is the ultimate pain in the ass. I mean that in the best way possible. He’s a legit top-six forward who also has the elements of a bottom-six pest. He’s the western version on Brad Marchand, without the licking. Tkachuk made a lot of fans in Edmonton last season with his acts. He knows how to disrupt the opponent and has real estate in the heads of the Oilers and their fans.
Markus Granlund and Sam Gagner are tonight’s healthy scratches for the Oilers, while Patrick Russell returns up front. Brandon Manning is scratched on defense, while Matt Benning is out tonight with a concussion. Benning did resume skating this morning at Rogers Place for the first time since December 1st.
Edmonton Oilers Lines:
Leon Draisaitl – Connor McDavid – Zack Kassian
James Neal – Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – Josh Archibald
Jujhar Khaira – Riley Sheahan – Patrick Russell
Joakim Nygard – Gaetan Haas – Alex Chiasson
Darnell Nurse – Ethan Bear
Oscar Klefbom – Adam Larsson
Kris Russell – Caleb Jones
Juuso Valimaki is out with a torn ACL. Brandon Davidson and Michael Stone are the scratches defensively, while Zac Rinaldo is scratched up front.
Calgary Flames Lines:
Matthew Tkachuk – Elias Lindholm – Andrew Mangiapane
Johnny Gaudreau – Sean Monahan – Mikael Backlund
Milan Lucic – Derek Ryan – Dillon Dube
Sam Bennett – Mark Jankowski – Michael Frolik
Mark Giordano – T.J. Brodie
Noah Hanifin – Travis Hamonic
Oliver Kylington – Rasmus Andersson
This will be a battle of poor defense against struggling offense. The Flames are averaging the fifth-fewest goals per game in the NHL this season, scoring just 2.59 goals per game. The Oilers, meanwhile, are allowing 3.53 goals at home per game. That is the second highest amount in the entire NHL.
The Oilers powerplay will be a key in this game. The Oilers powerplay is clicking at a success rate of 29.8%, the highest in the NHL this season. They’ve also lit the lamp on the man advantage in ten of their last 12 games, including Monday in Vancouver.
The Oilers have dominated the Battle of Alberta at Rogers Place. In six meetings over three seasons, the Oilers are 5-1-0 against the Flames in the new barn. Overall, the Oilers are 9-4-0 in their last 13 against their hated rivals from the south.