FGD #43: The 224th Battle of Alberta

Riding the highs of a big 6-0 win over the Florida Panthers and a day off that included a charity poker tournament, the Calgary Flames kick off a five-game road trip tonight in their home away from home…Edmonton, where they face the Oilers.

The Flames enter the night four points behind San Jose for the last Pacific playoff spot. They’re still more or less in the pack, but a few more losses and they risk sliding further and further back. If they have any illusions of being a playoff team – and I’m sure Sam Bennett’s four-goal performance had visions of future playoff glory in many peoples’ minds – they need to keep San Jose close and give themselves a chance to gradually reel them in.

The puck drops tonight at 8pm MT and you can catch the action on CBC (with Paul Romanuk and Mike Johnson) or Sportsnet 960 The Fan (with Derek Wills and Peter Loubardias).

For a view from the other side, check out our, uh, “friends,” at OilersNation.

THE FLAMES

Projected lines via Daily Faceoff:

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Fresh off a shutout against Florida, Jonas Hiller gets a start – the first back-to-back starts he’s had since early December when he filled in for a flu-ridden Karri Ramo. Hiller’s 5-4-0 with a 3.40 goals against average and a .870 save percentage. He wasn’t really tested against Florida and, to be honest, starting him again is probably just as much about giving Ramo a couple extra days rest than it is about Hiller playing fairly well. The Flames get Michael Frolik back, but Jiri Hudler is out (again) with a groin injury.

The last time we watched the Flames play hockey, they beat up on a Florida team that really just wanted to go home. And man, Sam Bennett sure slapped them around. Now, the Flames face an Edmonton team that’ll probably be pretty motivated given that they too have playoff ambitions and the Flames have beaten them a few times this year.

And I’ll keep beating this horse until the season is over: the key to victory is their special teams game. If the Flames can keep generating chances on the power-play and avoid taking too many penalties, they’ll be able to win a lot more games as the season wears on. And against an Oilers team with no Connor McDavid? If you can win the special teams battle, they’re probably sunk.

THE OILERS

Projected lines via Daily Faceoff:

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It sounds like Cam Talbot gets the nod for the boys up north. He’s 7-13-3 with a 2.66 goals against average and a .912 save percentage. He’s been good lately, but he’s been sort of all over the place this season and I’m sure he (and the Oilers) are just praying for some consistency.

The Oilers have not been great lately. They have a single win in 2016, and just two wins in their last 10 games. They’re getting plenty of pucks on net, but they’re just not generating the kinds of chances that result in goals often enough to win. Their special teams play has also been iffy – for instance, they gave up three power-play goals to Arizona a couple games back.

For the Oilers to have a shot tonight, they’ll need to tighten their game up, and quick.

THE NUMBERS

CALGARY EDMONTON
Wins 20 17
Power Play 14.4% 17.3%
Penalty Kill 74.0% 79.4%
Score-Adjusted Corsi 47.1% 47.8%
Faceoffs 48.3% 49.2%

WHEN LAST WE MET

This is the fourth meeting this season between the Flames and Oilers. The Flames have won two out of three meetings so far. The Oilers tuned up the Flames 5-2 in October in Calgary, but the Flames took the Halloween game in Edmonton 5-4 and the Flames rode a nice Johnny Gaudreau performance to a 5-3 comeback win on December 27 to set the franchise home winning streak record.

In 223 previous Battles of Alberta, Calgary has a 114-88-21 record.

(Suck it, Edmonton.)

ELSEWHERE

There’s a WHL Battle of Alberta between the Calgary Hitmen and the Edmonton Oil Kings at 6pm MT at the ‘Dome. Keegan Kanzig is riding a three-game goal-scoring streak and Pavel Karnaukhov continues to play well.

Oh, and the Stockton Heat are playing Chicago’s farm team (the Rockford IceHogs) tonight, also at 6pm MT.

SUM IT UP

It’s Calgary versus Edmonton on a Saturday night, with two big points in the tight Pacific Division playoff race on the line. Sounds like a pretty solid way to get the second half of the season going.