The Edmonton Oilers will tonight kick off an absolutely critical back-to-back set in Southern Alberta. Winners of seven of their last nine games, the Oilers currently sit third in the North Division, and can create some real separation with the playoff cutline in the next 27 hours. They can also find themselves on the outside looking in.
The Oilers will meet their provincial rivals, the Calgary Flames, for the second time this season. Its the second of ten overall meetings, and the second of five to be played in Calgary. It also opens up a back-to-back, home-and-home set between the foes. They’ll finish things off tomorrow night in Edmonton.
David Rittich gets the nod for the Flames, while Mike Smith gets the start for the Oilers.
Keys To The Game:
Edmonton: Stay focused. The Oilers have a history of letting the emotion get to them in these rivalry games, and it always gets them into trouble. The Oilers cannot allow themselves to get baited into bad penalties against a Calgary team that has feasted on the powerplay against Edmonton in recent years. The Oilers need to stay composed, play their game, and make the Flames pay with powerplay goals when they try to get under their skin.
Calgary: Bring the intensity. As just mentioned, the Oilers have a hard time keeping their composure in these games. Matthew Tkachuk in particular has done a masterful job of irritating the Oilers over the years. Get under their skin, make them take dumb penalties, and feast on a porous Edmonton PK.
Players To Watch:
Edmonton: James Neal was placed on waivers last Saturday, and was scratched in each of Edmonton’s last two games against the Jets. Tonight, Neal makes his return to the lineup on the left wing of speedy center Gaetan Haas. A veteran of the game, Neal can’t be feeling good about his recent scratches. Against his former team, I’d expect Neal to have a strong effort in this game. Don’t rule out a look on the powerplay for Neal as well. Alex Chiasson has had some tough luck there lately.
Calgary: Elias Lindholm seems to strike every time the Oilers and Flames meet. Tied for the team-lead with 16 points (5 g, 11 a) this season, Lindholm scored once in the first meeting between the teams earlier this month. Last season, in just four games against the Oilers, Lindholm scored six points (5 g, 1 a). A smart bet would have Lindholm involved in someway tonight.
The Oilers come to Calgary dealing with some injuries on defense. William Lagesson, injured in Monday’s loss to the Jets, remains day-to-day and will miss his second game in a row. Ethan Bear (face) is still on IR after suffering a “setback” earlier this week. Caleb Jones will be a healthy scratch, as will Kyle Turris.
Edmonton Oilers Lines:
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – Connor McDavid – Jesse Puljujarvi
Tyler Ennis – Leon Draisaitl – Kailer Yamamoto
Dominik Kahun – Jujhar Khaira – Josh Archibald
James Neal – Gaetan Haas – Alex Chiasson
Darnell Nurse – Tyson Barrie
Kris Russell – Adam Larsson
Slater Koekkoek – Evan Bouchard
The Flames currently only have one real injury to speak of, as center Derek Ryan is dealing with an upper-body issue. He also missed the first game between the teams, and isn’t expected to suit up tonight or tomorrow.
Calgary Flames Lines:
Andrew Mangiapane – Elias Lindholm – Matthew Tkachuk
Johnny Gaudreau – Sean Monahan – Brett Ritchie
Milan Lucic – Mikael Backlund – Dillon Dube
Joakim Nordstrom – Sam Bennett – Dominik Simon
Noah Hanifin – Chris Tanev
Mark Giordano – Juuso Valimaki
Connor Mackey – Rasmus Andersson
“When both teams are going out there playing physical, as big guys, we enjoy these games,” Jujhar Khaira said this morning. “It’s our chance to set the tone. It’s going to be a grind-y game and that’s what we have to stick to. They’re coming off a loss and they’re going to want to win this one. We just have to set the tone early and stick to our game plan.”
Setting the tone has been a point of emphasis this season for the Oilers. Their 24 goals in the first period is tops in the North Division and in the NHL. Overall, the Oilers hold a 24-17 advantage in goals during the opening frame. That’s a goal differential of +7 through 18 games. Calgary, meanwhile, is -7 in first period goal differential.
Connor McDavid, thanks to his first period assist on Wednesday, now has 500 points in his NHL career. 24 of them, 16 goals and eight assists, have come against the Flames in just 21 career games. His 16 goals against the Flames? That is the most he has scored against a single opponent in the NHL.