Flames relishing shot at revenge in latest Battle of Alberta vs. Oilers

Calgary Flames' Martin Pospisil (76) and Edmonton Oilers' Philip Broberg (86) battle for the puck during third period NHL preseason action in Edmonton on Wednesday October 4, 2023. (Jason Franson/CP)

CALGARY — Minutes after the last Battle of Alberta ended much the same as it has the previous three years, Blake Coleman lamented the Calgary Flames’ recent lot in the provincial duel.

“It’s a team we need to start beating,” said the Flames forward, shrugging, following a fourth-straight loss to the Oilers.

“It’s just getting old.”

It’s been a full month since a 3-1 loss on a fluky Sam Gagner goal gave the Flames their eighth loss in their last nine games against the Edmonton Oilers.

It’s a string that dates back to the 2021-22 playoffs, when the Oilers swept Games 2-5, which not only rocked southern Alberta, but kickstarted the dismantling of a Flames club once spearheaded by Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk and Elias Lindholm.

All three are gone now, as is more than half that roster.

What remains is a domination by Connor’s McDavidians, who have won 10 of the last 14 all-Alberta matchups heading into Saturday’s showdown in Edmonton. 

“I don’t like giving a lot of credit to those guys, but it is getting old losing to them,” confirmed Rasmus Andersson.

“I think, at times, when we play them we’re a little too passive.

“Ninety per cent of the game, you’re out against Connor or Leon (Draisaitl), and if you lose the puck, it goes the other way and most likely it’s a Grade-A scoring chance.

“We’ve just got to figure that out.

“The games they lose are when teams play in Edmonton’s zone and make him defend.

“We all know they’re not comfortable down there, so we’ve just got to hang on to pucks and make plays, and make him defend, and that’s when you have success against them.”

Complicating matters for the Flames is the fact the Oilers turned their season around after a mid-November coaching change that saw the club do wonders to improve its defensive play.

Embarking on an incredible 16-game winning streak in January and February, the Oilers demonstrated they’re now as capable of winning 2-1 games as they are 6-5 shootouts.

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In their last meeting, the Flames used home-ice advantage to keep both of Edmonton’s big guns off the scoresheet — a rare occurrence that still resulted in a demoralizing Flames loss.

“We’ve got to find a system that works against them,” said Coleman, who played a chief role alongside Mikael Backlund and Andrew Mangiapane in shutting down Connor McDavid’s line.

“The last loss we had against them, I felt like we did a really good job shutting down their top guys. We got beat by a fluky goal in a 3-1 game, so I think we’re on the right path.

“But you’ve got to score more than one.

“I do think if we continue to shut down their big guys, we’re going to give ourselves a good chance to win those games.”

Easier said than done, especially when McDavid is on a roll that has seen him pick up 48 points in his team’s last 20 home games.

Like Mark Messier and most of the Oilers captains, McDavid lives for beating the Flames.

Saturday’s matchup will be full of intrigue, as the Flames are fighting for their playoff lives, coming off character wins against juggernauts Winnipeg and Boston.

Goalie Jacob Markstrom has returned to vintage form, making for an intriguing matchup against a team that has been his kryptonite.   

The Oilers host Minnesota Friday night and will save Stuart Skinner for Saturday’s showdown. 

“For us, I just think we haven’t quite figured out the right approach against them,” said Coleman.

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“In the playoffs, we didn’t really match up a shut-down line, and if we applied that a little bit more …

“Obviously, those guys log big minutes, so you’ve got to be willing to play guys who can eat those minutes and shut them down. It would free up a lot of our skill guys to go out and score goals. In my opinion, that’s the recipe to beat them.”

As enticing as the provincial playoff matchup in 2022 was, the two teams have been moving in different directions ever since.

The Oilers have surged to be amongst the league’s elite, while the Flames are in the midst of retooling their core after two seasons of middling hockey. 

In a province where the two teams have forever used one another as benchmarks, the Flames’ recalibration will undoubtedly be made with an eye on building something that can match up favourably to the Oilers.

“I think the comparison is right to the Florida situation,” said Coleman, who won two Stanley Cups in Tampa, where the state rivalry now has the Panthers stacked to overtake the Lightning. 

“You always kind of build to beat who is in your backyard, and that’s who you have the best chance to face in the playoffs too, so you want to have a leg up on that.”

That could take some time, as the Flames’ youth movement is in its infancy.

Andersson insists the sting of losing in five games to Edmonton in 2022 is long gone.

“It was two years ago — we don’t have many players left from that team,” he said, while adding yet another reminder of how intensely they dislike each other.

“It obviously sucked that summer.

“But we were all pretty happy when they lost to Colorado.”

Puck drop is 8 p.m. MT / 10 p.m. ET, with a national audience looking on via Hockey Night in Canada

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