October 18 2011 11:47AM
The Calgary Flames play round one of the Battle of Alberta tonight, playing host to the Edmonton Oilers for the first time this season (7:30 pm, Sportsnet West and Sportsnet 960). While the Flames have struggled in getting off to a 1-3 start, the Oilers have kicked their season off with a bang, thanks in large part to their last two number one overall picks. With how things have gone lately for Calgary, a loss at home to their provincial rivals could have many inching much closer to that panic button.
The Oilers will play the second of a back-to-back set, having beaten Nashville 3-1 at Rexall Place on Monday night. Calgary hasn't played since Saturday when they finished off a three game road trip with a 3-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Tonight's affair starts a suddenly very important stretch for the Flames, as they kick off a six game homestand that carries them through the start of next month. Looking up at most of the Western Conference pack, this has to be viewed as an opportunity to make some real headway.
Finally some good news on the Calgary injury front, as it looks like Brendan Morrison returns to the lineup tonight after missing all of training camp and the first four games of the regular season recovering from offseason knee surgery. While in his words he's not 100% at this point, Morrison feels it's time to get back on the ice, because he's ready to go out and contribute. How quickly he finds his timing and adjusts his pace will be what many will watch early, but I like where he slots in.
Morrison looks to centre the third line tonight between Niklas Hagman and Rene Bourque, which is the ideal spot for him this season. Eventually I believe Lee Stempniak will replace Hagman on this line, but having a Morrison-Bourque duo on a third line playing similar depth on the other side has the potential to be very good for the Flames. He's not the only change we'll see in the lines and pairings.
Alex Tanguay-David Moss-Jarome Iginla
Curtis Glencross-Olli Jokinen-Lee Stempniak
Niklas Hagman-Brendan Morrison-Rene Bourque
Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond-Matt Stajan-Tim Jackman
Jay Bouwmeester-Chris Butler
Mark Giordano-Scott Hannan
Cory Sarich-Derek Smith
It's game one for Letourneau-Leblond, as he plays his first game as a member of the Flames. He'll enter the lineup in the place of Tom Kostopoulos. I'm not sure what PL3 brings to this lineup other than the obvious, but we'll see exactly what his hockey acumen is this evening. Smith re-enters the lineup in place of Anton Babchuk, perhaps in an effort to match some of Edmonton's speed up front.
Miikka Kiprusoff gets the start in net, his third consecutive game in net.
A 2-1-1 start for Edmonton has many in the provincial capital excited, and while it pains us all to say it, you can't help but enjoy watching the Oilers play. With five points in his first four NHL games, first overall pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins seems to have settled the whole "will he or won't he" debate when it comes to him sticking with the NHL club. The Red Deer Rebels product has been a lot of fun to watch playing on a line with Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle.
Now, to bring things back to reality a little bit, let's not forget that Head Coach Tom Renney has done a fairly decent job giving his "kid line" the high ground, with the trio having the three highest offensive zone starts among forwards on the team. That's not overly surprising, but it's meant a lot of defensive zone work through four games for the line centred by Shawn Horcoff.
Taylor Hall-Ryan Nugent-Hopkins-Jordan Eberle
Ryan Smyth-Shawn Horcoff-Ryan Jones
Magnus Paajarvi-Eric Belanger-Linus Omark
Ben Eager-Anton Lander-Lennart Petrell
Ladislav Smid-Tom Gilbert
Ryan Whitney-Cam Barker
Andy Sutton-Corey Potter
Those defensive pairings aren't iron clad as the Oilers didn't skate this morning after playing last night, but Whitney will return to the lineup after recovering from ankle surgery. With Smid and Gilbert set to stay together, putting Whitney with Barker seems to be the most logical choice. Sam Gagner seems close to returning but won't play tonight.
After Nikolai Khabibulin took the win at home to Nashville last night, Devan Dubnyk gets the start in net tonight.
Can the Flames do the job against the high flying Oilers? I believe they can, but they can't get into a game where they start trading chances. That's Edmonton's game, the same way it was Toronto's game on Saturday night. However, if Calgary plays the way they did for the majority against Montreal, they likely win this hockey game.