December 10 2011 03:50PM
There is no doubt that when these two teams face each other, the stats and standings go out the window and for sixty minutes, only one thought comes to mind; Embrace the Hate! It’s us against them, family member against family member, and the only thing we can probably agree on with the toothless folk up in Shelbyville is that we wouldn’t have it any other way.
It is a rivalry that has been one of the best in the NHL, it has also been amongst the worst. In the 1980’s both teams were at the top of their game and each meeting was an epoch battle to see who would ultimately win the war. As the 90’s came and went, the Battle became less about war and more about survival. The Battle of Alberta had been reduced to the Battle of Albrutal.
Some would even argue that both teams had developed new rivalries apart from each other. Edmonton had some incredible games and series’ against the Dallas Stars, while Calgary spent seven years absent from the second season, they had developed more of a hate on for Vancouver. Though, even when things were down for both clubs, the fans kept the rivalry alive and well.
The Flames and the Oilers face each other for the 207th time tonight, Calgary holding the advantage with a record of 102-82-19-3. Even over the last few seasons, with Calgary being on the steady decline, it has always been a match-up we down south have looked forward to. There is just something special about lining up at center and knowing no matter what is wrong with the power play, the penalty killing, or who isn’t scoring, that facing the Oilers was going to be the Flames slump-buster; and it has been that way for the better part of the decade.
As the holiday season approaches, Christmas might have come just a little too early for the Edmonton Oilers. Starting off the season with youthful excitement, ready to show off their shiny new toy to the rest of the league, Edmonton sped through their first 10 games with a record of 6-2-2. They were playing at home a lot and the fans all admired the shiny new toy. The story away from Rexall was different, losing all 3, one of which was to the Flames.
The Oilers, for the most part, were playing it smart. Only certain people got to play with the shiny new toy. In the confines of home, ‘Nuge’ was part of an exciting unit that featured Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle. It was a blast from the past as the Oil’s new “Kid Line” was like a direct shot of adrenaline to the heart; add to that, the youthful rejuvenation of Smythe and Khabibulin’s outlandish save percentage; the Oil were cruising.
However, as expected, Edmonton is starting to come back to earth. What was once a 7-point lead on the Flames has been whittled down to 3-points - and Calgary with a game in hand.
As is customary in Stinktown, injuries have also crept their way into the party. One begins to wonder why scores of Edmonton players are stricken with ailments and maladies every year. Perhaps those who can't demand trades out of town simply hurt themselves as a way to avoid going to work? Kind of like soldiers who shoot themselves in the foot so they can leave the front lines. Speaking of wounded legs, Ryan Whitney is playing like a guy who was seized in the middle of his convalescence and shoved back into the active roster against his will.
Taylor Hall continues to miss time in the line-up and as such will miss playing Calgary for the third time this season. The Oil went 0 for 6 on the PP in the last game against the Flames, I have no doubt that missing Hall had something to do with that woeful stat.
Khabibulin still boasts a whopping .933 Sv% and 1.95 GAA, placing him 4th in the NHL in both categories. How much longer he can keep up these rates in beyond me, but if the play of the guys in front of him continues to regress, then Nik is bound to be dragged down with them. Of course, he may at some point decide to hit the bottle again, at which point the Oilers fortunes will depend on Devan "I can't believe I was a first round pick either" Dubnyk.
The Flames continue to be a team in limbo this season, and it 's having a serious impact on its fan-base. Half of them want management to blow it up, and half of them want them to get their act together and play like the team they could be/should. The obstacle, as always, has been themselves and it's fair to say the only thing they seem to be consistent at is being utterly inconsistent.
Too often the Flames have followed a positive effort with an abysmal one. That being said, Calgary has shown a positive start to the month of December, a month that will be critical if the Flames are to make up any ground in the standings. With 16 games and 4 sets of back-to-backs, this month will most likely dictate the fate of the rest of the season.
For a team that had absolutely no wiggle room at the start of the season, the Flames roster has gone through significant change. As much as Feaster said there was not going to be a wholesale change to this club, change has arrived, whether they like it or not. Calgary now has three rookies on the blueline, most notably T.J. Brodie, who has looked very good in his brief time here. Brodie bolsters speed and pretty good puck-handling. The other notable addition on the blue line was the calling up of Joe Piskula, who if you don’t know the name, all you have to really know is that he is the guy that has pretty much spelled it out clearly to Cory Sarich, that he just doesn’t fit in the Flames plans.
The return of Brendan Morrison and anticipated return of David Moss meant that it was time for Horak to be re-assigned to Abbotsford. Morrison has 6 pts in his 2 games back, so it looks like the Flames are going to ride this out and see where it takes them. Calgary has also recalled Greg Nemisz today in case the flu-stricken Alex Tanguay is unable to play.
With the OIl stumbling and on the second night of a back-to-back, I can’t think of a better team than the old “slump-busters” for the Flames to finally go above .500 for the first timethis season.
Enjoy part 3 of the Battle of Alberta!