Young Oilers learn tough lessons in Battle-of-Alberta loss

Johnny Gaudreau had a goal and assist to get his point streak to 11 games, powering the Flames to a 5-2 win over the Oilers.

EDMONTON — Oliver Kylington will never forget the goal he scored Saturday night. His second career goal was a one-time ripper that every kid dreams about, one that stood up as the winner in a 5-2 Flames win and his first ever point against the hated Edmonton Oilers.

Across the way, still half-dressed in his stall when the media walked into the dressing room, another rookie defenceman was responsible for a goal he’ll never forget.

Spoiler alert: One young d-man will sleep a little better than the other after this one.

"I think that’s the difference between an NHL player and an American League player," said Caleb Jones, whose ill-advised D-to-D pass was picked out of the air by Mikael Backlund and deposited shortly thereafter behind Mikko Koskinen for the goal that ended the Oilers’ comeback. "Those plays don’t happen, at that juncture in a hockey game. I’ll learn from it though."

It’s such a brutal level of hockey for a young defenceman. Mistakes are inevitable, it’s just the reality of learning the game. But here, in the NHL, that cross-ice floater gets picked off nearly every time, and sometimes the guy who walks in on your goalie with that puck is a world class player like Backlund.

He’s going to make you pay. You just know he will.

"I just can’t do that. Not much else to say. Just can’t do it," said Jones, a 21-year-old playing just his 16th NHL game. "He made a good play to knock it down, but I can’t do that."

Everyone has made that mistake, we mention to Jones.

"Guys make mistakes every night, I’m sure you might find a play like that on the highlights somewhere. But, it’s a tough one to take right now."

Before we go much further, at 3-2 with the Oilers on the come, Jones’ mistake may have stalled any comeback. But make no mistake — Calgary was the better team on the night, is the better team on the season, and methodically beat Edmonton on Hockey Night in Canada Saturday.

The Flames’ two top players — Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau — each had a goal and an assist, while Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl were both shut out.

Calgary’s best players were better, their goalie was as good or better, and the rest of their team made less mistakes. It’s the recipe to becoming a first-place team. 

"We found another way to win, it’s great to see the character in this room and everybody digs in and we’re finding ways to win," said Backlund, who has been a Flame since they made him a first-round pick in 2007. "We were a way better five-on-five team, then penalties were a little back and forth and slowed the game down a little bit. But when we played five-on-five, I thought we were dominated and we were the better team."

We won’t argue with Backlund on the five-on-five stuff, though on a night where 18 minor penalties were called we’re not sure we saw enough five-on-five play to truly be able to tell.

Referees Garrett Rank and Graham Skilliter officiated this game like two guys scared to death that some emotion might break out in the Battle of Alberta. They did not affect the outcome, but did create an atmosphere where players on both teams were afraid to push back, throw a hit, or initiate any physical contact for fear of another ticky-tack penalty being called.

But again, we digress.

We’ll guarantee you that the referees’ poor work detracted from the fans’ entertainment level. It didn’t decide a winning team though.

"It was both sides, not just us," agreed Draisaitl, whose effort was far too sleepy for a game of this magnitude. "They just outplayed us and we have to make sure we are better tomorrow."

This is Edmonton’s reality, when they come up against a Western Conference power like Calgary has become. The Oilers need a perfect game to win. But, of course, if they were proficient at playing perfect games the Oilers wouldn’t be 20 points behind Calgary in the Pacific.

"They played better than we did, as simple as that. They outplayed us," Darnell Nurse said. "The guys who play special teams, we have to be better. I am a big part of that. We will have to be better on the power play and the PK and try to generate goals and keep them out when we are on the PK, and we didn’t do that well enough tonight."

Edmonton lost ground to just about everyone in the wild card race Saturday, but Carolina is in Sunday night, a chance to recoup.

No time to hang your head, whether your names is Caleb Jones or Connor McDavid.

Pitter patter.

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