Battle of Alberta returns in hell mode as the flames of conference leaders face Edmonton Oilers



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Day of the Game 30: Flames at Oilers

There seems to be no way to stop the Calgary Flames these days. The Alberta NHL franchise has been rolling out for a few weeks now. The latest move north (for lack of a better run) came three weeks ago when they faced the 2-0 home deficit against Edmonton, scoring four straight goals to win. In the ten games since then, only a loss of regulation, with a current run of five straight wins, has taken them to first place in the Western Conference. They took first place last night with a 5-2 victory over leaders of the Central Division Nashville Predators, despite the absence of captain Mark Giordano in the suspension and closing of center Mikael Backlund due to an injury (although the Preds are also losing some important players right now). Earlier in the week Flames complained about a 3-goal deficit to beat Columbus 9-6 and then returned home to close Minnesota 2-0. It is a team that is capable of winning in many ways.

On the other side of the ice tonight, they will face the Edmonton Oilers, who are doing their own maneuvers. Since the weekend lost in Calgary and home to Vegas the following night, locals have decided to go ahead with trainer Todd McLellan by installing the venerable Ken Hitchcock on paper. Since then, the team has returned to the championship final with a 6-2-1 record in the last 9 games, winning 5 of the last 6, including 5 in a row, with superstar Connor McDavid in the lineup. The Oilers are starting to show different ways of doing the job, from Wednesday's late comeback and final victory in St. Louis to the Friday blast of attack in a 7-2 win over the Wild.

Makes a fascinating game for Sunday night hockey. On one end of the hat for my Hockey Cult colleague Kurt Leavins, whose regular Sunday column "9 Things" is anticipated this week while Kurt pauses to skate on the family farm in Saskatchewan, I'll lend his format, if not his sources for this game day preview .

Battle of Alberta: 9 Things

9. Calgary enters this match with the best Western Goal Balance at +24. They came in second at the conference with 3.57 goals per game and fourth in goals per game at 2.77. For their part, the Oilers are in tenth place among the 15 Western teams in the -7 goal difference, with their game fees of 2.76 GF and 3.00 GA / GP, eleventh and tenth respectively. The club is slightly outpacing the rankings in the standings, where they are on a bench with Minnesota for eighth place in the conference with a percentage of .552 points (15-12-2).

8. Flames have a depth of markers that the Oilers can not match at the moment. Four Calgary attackers – Johnny Gaudreau (39), Sean Monahan (35), Elias Lindholm (34) and Matthew Tkachuk (33) – all have at least 33 points. The Oilers have only 2 players at that level in Connor McDavid (40) and Leon Draisaitl (33), with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins at 26 and no other forward with 15 points. Calgary also has an offensive boss at the end in Mark Giordano, who enters the game today with an average of exactly 1 point per game (29 out of 29). He will leave the same way, as the Flames captain can not play. He will be out of the second of a two-game suspension for knees. Oilers Top Blueliner's Oscar Klefbom is only half that level, with 15 points in 29 games, despite being very hot lately.

7. The duo McDavid-Draisaitl have played together almost as much as McDavid-RNH pair who started the season on Line One. The most recent pair were twice as productive with 14 goals as only 7 of the first two with two goals being scored when the three were on ice together.
This detail, courtesy of the excellent Natural Tool Trick Line Tool, shows the results of the Oilers with and without their Big Three on Ice in 5v5. Four levels here: all three on the ice together (top row), two of the three (three combinations, highlighted by orange boxes), one of three (also three combinations), all three out (bottom row). Obviously, the ideal scenario is "all three linked," but this has been used in moderation, in fact, since it would maximize the "all three out" occasions where the Oilers were crushed. On a fee basis, McD-Drai's pairing sans Nuge produced 4.11 goals per 60, compared with only 1.98 for McDi Nuge without Drai, which probably explains why both McLellan and now Hitchcock preferred the former, ignoring the protest cries of "Leon needs to run his own line "crowd. The Nuge-Drai's third option without the McD remains a rarely used alternative. Another is the "three-center" model that is not explicitly shown here, but has not been implemented throughout this season. It is worth noting that each star playing alone without the other two is within an equilibrium goal; is this "all three" situation that is the club's Achilles heel.

6. similar exam Calgary's four best strikers confirm that Gaudreau-Monahan-Lindholm has been a regular and deadly trio, while Tkachuk played largely on a separate and effective line, especially with Backlund. Here is a simplified version of the table above using Gaudreau as a proxy for the first line and Tkachuk for the second:
Both men played mainly separated, in two lines of outscoring. It is worth noting here how the Flames were without the man on the ice, basically the hockey balance of the top six. So it's not just the top production that separates the two Alberta rivals, but also the depth of the list. It is worth noting that the underlying numbers suppressed attempts at above pitches, goal kicks, scoring chances – Calgary show well north of 50% in all categories in each of the four manpower combinations. This is a deep and scary team.

5. Both teams used two netminders extensively with some parallels. The story in Edmonton was settled for Cam Talbot's early troubles, the inspired game of newcomer Mikko Koskinen to make a serious run in first place, and the recent recovery of the best man to throw his hat back in the ring. A similar narrative in Calgary, where veteran Mike Smith fought vigorously for a while, David Rittich responded to the opportunities and moved on, and Smith straightened the ship. The veteran won his last six decisions, recording a reduction of 0.936 in the period. Tonight, however, the predicted matchup is Rittich vs. Koskinen, the same two who pitted each other in Calgary, three weekends ago.

4. The Oilers dominated the first half of this explosive case, but hit a steady path to the penalty box as they did so. Eventually the club lost the initiative and spent the final 25 minutes mostly in pursuit mode while Calgary – who leads the NHL with 47 goals in the third quarter – has established a better powerplay than ever with the man's advantage in the beginning game. Some questionable training tactics by McLellan (Milan Lucic on the front row, Zack Kassian on Monday) were apparently thrown into the hands of Bill Peters and The Flames, at least in the eyes of that, among many other observers.

3. Hitchcock's first order of business was to find a regular role for Lucic and Kassian in a bottom line six with veteran Kyle Brodziak. They produced only 1 goal so far (Kassian & # 39; s snipe the range Friday night), but gave up little while putting a constant physique on opponents. Best of all, their play styles are complementary to each other: hit the disc square, but hit the corners and follow it there with extreme prejudice.

2. The Oilers still have a big man on their first two lines, while Alex Chiasson moves in the big line with McDavid and Draisaitl while Jujhar Khaira seems to be blooming on Line Two with Nugent-Hopkins and Jesse Puljujarvi. , in what I called the Nuge-Juje-Puje Line. Chiasson is no idea of ​​a ruffian, but he is a great man who can grind the boards and "hold the ice" as Hitchcock puts it. Let's not forget that Draisaitl is a great man by himself, who played Tkachuk on ice on no less than four occasions in Calgary and needed no apparent "protection" from the likes of Lucic to do so.

1. Tkachuk is the elephant in the room. He has been an irritant since the first game of his NHL career when he seriously injured Oilers defender Brandon Davidson with a cruel and unpunished maneuver. More recently, in the previous BoA this season, he has led the Oilers to distraction, attracting at least five minor penalties and two misconduct without ever putting their feet in the box. Particularly enraged for Oil fans was a sequel in which Tkachuk punched both McDavid and Draisaitl in a scrum that ended with the two Oilers stars in the box and Tkachuk polishing his halo on the ice as he lined up for the next Calgary powerplay. Lubricators, especially Kassian, lost focus to a later degree, seeking the futile approach to physical retribution that resulted in turbulence, more halo-polishing, and more powerplays from Calgary. Memo to Oilers: If you want to "hurt" dishonest opponents like this guy, do it on the scoreboard. Get the body when you can, over him and all your teammates, but focus on hockey. Beat up your team and you beat him.

This line-up tonight

The big change is between the pipes, where Koskinen takes over after two excellent Talbot games. The gigantic Finn has been excellent on his own, especially at home, where he is 5-0-0 with 2 shutouts, a reduction of 0.966 and an average of 1.07 against goals. Small sample size to be sure, especially the sample of "Goals against" – only 6 in 174 shots.

Same lines and combinations as the defeated Minnesota on Friday. At the time of the ice, the Brodziak trio was actually the fourth line in that game, although I would be surprised if that happened today at BoA, so I continue to list them in third. However, it is crucial that the top six in Edmonton find a way to play the Flames.

Calgary is missing a couple of big wheels, its captain and Italian boss Giordano and his Backlund shutdown center. As Flames' technician, Peters, chooses to deploy his troops against the McDavid lineage, and what measures Hitchcock can take with the advantage of the last move will be an interesting subplot for the students in the dispute game.

In his pre-match Sunday morning, Hitchcock hit the exact spot where I had just finished as # 1, "you have to play through things … we will not win if we distract ourselves." Asked specifically about Tkachuk, Hitch stated that "he is a good player who plays on the edge, so we need a bigger advantage … if you want to win the hockey game, you need to take it as close as possible, just do not fall .

In other words, fans of the Oilers, tighten their seat belts.

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The Edmonton Oilers were firing on all – well, most – cylinders on Friday night, pouring seven goals in addition to their former rival, Minnesota Wild, on their way to a 7-2 victory. Bruce McCurdy of the Cult of Hockey is excited about the victory.

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