It’s often said that misery loves company. Since the 2006-07, the province of Alberta has been home to two teams whose only bond was through post-season misery. In that span, in 30 combined post-seasons prior to this one, the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers have two series victories between them.
By the end of the next two weeks, one of these teams will have won two series in this playoff year alone – and added to the playoff misery of their provincial rival.
Welcome to the Battle of Alberta, 2022 playoff edition.
Let’s dive into how the two teams stack up.
Both teams got some strong performances from their starting netminders, Markstrom and Smith, in the first round.
Playoff Goals Saved Above Expected Ranking – March 15 pic.twitter.com/3wVTBuSBZg
— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) May 15, 2022
Based on JFresh’s model, and a few others, the Kings’ got higher-quality scoring chances against the Oilers than the Stars did against the Flames, and Smith was playing a little more out of his mind than Markstrom was. At some point, both guys could drift back closer to their normal levels, but Smith is a bit higher above his normal than Markstrom is, and therefore may be a bit more vulnerable to regression.
The Flames may have a slight edge in goal based on the full season, but it’s pretty close to a wash here based on Round 1.
|Hanifin – Andersson
Kylington – Tanev
Zadorov – Gudbranson
|Nurse – Barrie
Keith – Bouchard
Kulak – Ceci
(Of note: both teams went with seven defenders for three games in Round 1.)
You can make a case that Darnell Nurse might be the best overall blueliner among both teams. But top to bottom, the Flames have gotten a lot of great hockey out of their seven defenders. Heck, Michael Stone was arguably their glue guy in Round 1: he played four games (Games 4 though 7) and his role evolved throughout the series, but he gave them good minutes in all situations, and actually led Calgary’s blueline group in points.
Edmonton’s defensive group isn’t out-and-out-bad necessarily, but they’re prone to inconsistencies and wild swings in ways that Calgary’s hasn’t seen during the regular season or playoffs. Based on that, clear edge to the Flames in this category.
|Gaudreau – Lindholm – Tkachuk
Mangiapane – Backlund – Coleman
Dube – Jarnkrok – Toffoli
Lucic – Lewis – Ritchie
|Draisaitl – McDavid – Yamamoto
Kane – Nugent-Hopkins – Hyman
Archibald – McLeod – Puljujarvi
Foegele – Ryan – Kassian
(As noted above, both teams rolled with 11 forwards for three games in Round 1.)
We might as well get this out of the way: the Oilers have two of the NHL’s best players – Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl – and the Flames have the NHL’s top line – Johnny Gaudreau, Elias Lindholm and Matthew Tkachuk. The Oilers have some nice secondary players – Evander Kane, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Zach Hyman – and the Flames have some nice secondary players – Andrew Mangiapane, Mikael Backlund, Blake Coleman and Tyler Toffoli.
This is almost a replication of the defensive breakdown, when we think about it. Is there a Flames player as good as McDavid or Draisaitl individually? Probably not, though Gaudreau is having a monster season and is closer than most want to admit to playing at their levels. But the Flames, throughout the season, have been able to consistently use four lines, and their depth is arguably a little bit better than Edmonton’s.
But because of the presence of Edmonton’s big guns, let’s call this a wash. There’s always the chance of McDavid stealing a game all by his lonesome, arguably to a larger degree than anybody in this series aside from perhaps the two goaltenders.
The Flames’ power play was pretty good in the regular season, if a bit prone to running hot and cold – they’re streaky – while their penalty kill was consistently very good all season.
Edmonton’s power play was the deciding factor in their two wins over Calgary in October and January. They’re not quite automatic, but they chugged along at close to 30% for big chunks of the season and they’re at that level after Round 1.
Give the special teams edge to Edmonton: I don’t think they’ll be as nervous to take penalties and face the Flames’ power play as the other way around.
|Darryl Sutter||Head||Jay Woodcroft|
|Jason LaBarbera||Goalie||Dustin Schwartz|
|Jamie Pringle||Video||Jeremy Coupal|
This could be an interesting X-factor, as Darryl Sutter is one of the most experienced (and successful) coaches in Stanley Cup playoff history, while Woodcroft is very good, but he’s a newcomer to the NHL game. If this is a close series, the fact that the Flames have home ice (and last change) and an experienced bench boss could be a deciding factor.
Two weeks from now, there will be four teams left competing for the Stanley Cup – one will be from the province of Alberta. The Flames have taken a step this season, winning a playoff round for the first time since 2015. They have the opportunity to take another step in the next two weeks, with a spot in the conference final up for grabs.
But as Jack Nicholson stated in The Departed: No one gives it to you. You have to take it.
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