The Calgary Flames are back in action tonight, looking to snap a two game losing streak. It should be a must watch game as the Battle of Alberta kicks off, with the first of 10 meetings between the Flames and Oilers. Both teams have gotten off to slow starts with the Oilers fourth in the North Division while the Flames sit sixth. With the way things are shaping up it looks like the Oilers will be one of the main competitors for the Flames for the bottom two playoff spots in the North Division. Each of the 10 matchups will be crucial four-point games.
Last year the Flames had great success against the Oilers, going 3-1 against their provincial rivals before the season was paused. The Flames narrowly outscored the Oilers in the season series 16-15, with two of the games being one goal games. Last season was the first time the Flames won the season series against the Oilers since the 2015-16 season, when they went 3-2. Games between the two always seem to be close and competitive so it should be an exciting year for battle of Alberta matchups in this shortened season.
Flames VS Oilers Game Days
With the Flames and Oilers not meeting until three weeks into the season, they are now set to meet 10 times over the next three months. They will split the games with five in Calgary and five in Edmonton. There will be three two game series’ with the other four games being single matchups. The highlight will likely be a stretch of three meetings in just eight days at the end of the season which could have massive playoff implications.
The Oilers Roster
The Oilers will have former Flames Kris Russell and James Neal in the lineup tonight while Mike Smith will be backing up Mikko Koskinen. Ethan Bear has been day-to-day so we will have to wait until closer to game time to see if he draws in.
Outside of the Ottawa Senators I don’t think there’s a weaker goaltending duo in the North division than the Oilers’. After missing out on both Jacob Markstrom and Brayden Holtby in the off-season, the Oilers were forced to enter the year with the same duo from 2019-20 of Koskinen and Smith. Smith has been injured all season so Koskinen has taken over as the go to start for Edmonton. Koskinen’s numbers across the board in his career so far have been pretty subpar, sporting a career .908 save percentage and 2.96 GAA in 108 games.
Below using visuals from hockeyviz.com, we can compare Markstrom and Koskinen’s performances from last season.
Markstrom is clearly the superior goalie, however Koskinen actually had a very impressive season last year as shown by these visuals. Koskinen had solid numbers across the board, allowing less goals than expected on both wrist/snap shots and slapshots. On tip/deflections and backhands he was right around expected. All this while playing behind a bad Oilers defense.
He did only get into 34 games though as he split starts with Smith for most of the year. Regardless he put up solid starting goalie level numbers when he did play. He finished the year with a .917 save percentage, 2.75 GAA and 18-13-3 record. His numbers were almost identical to Markstrom who had a .918 save percentage and 2.75 GAA, although Markstrom played nine more games and had five more wins.
This year however has been two very different stories for each goalie. Markstrom has been superb for the Flames so far putting up a .920 save percentage and 2.37 GAA, with a 4-3-1 record. He’s been worth every penny as he’s given the Flames a chance to win every night he plays. Koskinen on the other hand has struggled big time to start the year as the go to guy in Edmonton. He sports an ugly .897 save percentage, 3.31 GAA, and 5-6 record this season.
Despite Koskinen’s impressive season last year, it’s clear the Flames have a big-time advantage in net in the season series with Markstrom between the pipes. In a series that is expected to be tight all year, such a big advantage in net could prove to be a huge sway in who walks away with more wins.
The bracketed numbers indicate the team’s league wide rank in a given category. All data is at 5v5, score/venue adjusted, courtesy of NaturalStatTrick.
|CGY||130.7 (18)||146.7 (23)||3250.7 (21)||562.4 (9)|
|EDM||135. 18 (24)||156.89 (29)||3267.64 (23)||613.37 (20)|
It’s no secret the Oilers are not very good defensively and these numbers from last season show just how poor they were in their own end. They ranked in the bottom 11 of each major category and struggled with defense all season. If it weren’t for Koskinen playing some solid hockey last year the Oilers would’ve allowed a lot more goals. The Oilers didn’t have a single defenseman finish with a CF% over 50 last season other than Mike Green who played just two games.
In the off-season they didn’t do anything to fix that issue either as the only notable defender they signed was Tyson Barrie who is a great offensive defenseman, but is notorious for being flat out bad in his own zone. To make matters worse, top four defenseman Oscar Klefbom was ruled out for the entire year dealing a huge blow to an already thin defense corp. They did add top prospect Evan Bouchard to their roster this year as well who they hope can add some much-needed depth on the blueline, but he has only played one game so far.
The early returns this season have been much of the same as the Oilers have struggled on defense through their first 12 games. They sit 29th for CA and xGA, and 27th for HDCA. They have allowed 43 goals against, which sits 29th in the league ahead of only Ottawa and Vancouver. In other words, the Oilers are in contention for the worst defensive team in the league. (Want to know more about these acronyms, read our stats primer here)
In particular new addition Tyson Barrie has struggled mightily at even strength, sitting with an ugly CF% of 45.70 and GF% of 34.21. Former Flame Kris Russell has struggled as well with a CF% of 48.81, and GF% of 26.24%.
It hasn’t been all bad though as both Darnell Nurse and Ethan Bear have played some solid hockey to start the season. Currently they are the only regular Oilers defensemen with a CF% and GF% over 50. Bear missed the Oilers previous game and is currently listed as day-to-day so it’ll be worth monitoring if he plays as it would be a boost to the Flames chances if he is forced to sit out.
The Flames have gotten off to a decent start defensively, and certainly much better than the Oilers. Their CA of 378.31 ranks 12th in the league, while their xGA of 15.35 and HDCA of 78.45 sit 12th and 18th respectively. They’ve surrendered just 27 GA in all situations so far, putting them 11th in the league. For comparison the Flames have four defensemen with a CF% above 50 compared to the Oilers two. The only two Flames defenders that aren’t above 50% is their first pairing of Mark Giordano and Rasmus Andersson.
The Flames have a big advantage on defense as Edmonton is a defensive sieve and combined with their advantage in net it could be the difference maker in the season series. The Flames don’t have elite numbers on defense but anything above bad is much better than the Oilers at this point and they should be able to take advantage of the Oilers leaky defense all season.
There’s no questioning that the Oilers main strength is their elite forwards as they possess arguably the two best offensive players in the world in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. When those two are on their game the Oilers are a hard team to beat, even with their deficiencies at other positions.
|CGY||132.1 (8)||132.8 (20)||3250.8 (6)||586.3 (17)||7.69 (22)|
|EDM||129.11 (12)||141.08 (17)||3039.62 (21)||608.59 (13)||8.43 (14)|
The Oilers had a pretty good year offensively last season, finishing in the top half of the league in xGF, HDCF, and SH%. They did this despite finishing bottom ten in CF. In other words, they didn’t generate a ton of chances but when they did, a lot of them were high danger. This pretty much lines up with what you would expect from a top heavy team. They don’t dominate possession by any means and typically get outplayed, but they have game breaking players that can create grade A scoring chances out of nowhere.
The Oilers issues at forward have always been depth as they have struggled to surround their superstar forwards with talent. They did their best to bolster their forward depth this off-season going out and signing Kyle Turris and Dominik Kahun, as well as resigning Tyler Ennis. They also brought top draft pick Jesse Puljujarvi back from Finland on a two-year deal.
It hasn’t paid off yet though as the Oilers offense is once again being carried by the big two. Puljujarvi has four points in 12 games, while Turris and Kahun have just three each. Ennis has been in and out of the lineup and has one point in five games. However, despite his low point totals Puljujarvi has actually played some decent hockey this year and sits second among Oilers forwards for xGF%, and third for both CF% and HDCF. If the pucks start going in for him, he could create a devastating first line combo with McDavid.
There’s no debating that the Oilers offense lives and dies with their two superstars though. If they aren’t scoring, then neither are the Oilers. Draisaitl and McDavid sit first and second in league scoring with 22 and 24 points respectively. They currently account for 36% of the Oilers total goals. Of the Oilers 42 goals this season, either McDavid or Draisaitl have gotten a point on 29 of them, or 69%.
Draisaitl sits first in the league among forwards with at least 100 minutes TOI with aGF% at 87.36, while McDavid leads the league in HDCF% with 55.57%. His line mate Ryan Nugent-Hopkins sits second at 49.23. It’s pretty simple, when McDavid and Draisaitl are feeling it, the Oilers are a juggernaut offensively.
As a team they generate goals and high danger chances at an elite rate. The Oilers are second in the league for xGF and third for HDCF at 22.63 and 105.18 respectively. This year has continued their trend from last season though as despite scoring the third most goals in the league with 42 and generating a ton of high danger chances, the rest of their underlying numbers are just average. They sit 16th in the league for xGF% at 50.53, and 21st for CF% at 47.94.
The Oilers don’t generate a ton possession wise, but when they do get chances, they typically come in the form of high danger ones. They are great at generating high danger opportunities out of nothing and on the rush so the Flames will have to be extra careful not get caught in a lull.
The Flames on the other hand have the opposite problem. They are a much better team possession wise than the Oilers, but they don’t generate as many goals or chances. They sit 13th in the league for xGF and HDCF at 17.59 and 80.12 respectively. Their xGF% of 53.40 is 10th in the league while their CF% of 51.84 is 11th. As is tradition with the Flames their shooting percentage is in the bottom half of the league and they’ve been snake-bitten to start the year. They sit 24th in the league with a shooting percentage of 6.64%. The Flames tend to generate a good amount of chances but they just can’t seem to convert them into goals. If there’s anything that can help break the trend though it’s playing the Oilers and their awful defense.
What To Expect
The Battle of Alberta is always must-watch hockey, and after last years heated series getting 10 games this time around should add even more fuel to the fire. With each team looking like they’ll be battling right to the end of the season for a playoff spot the intensity will be dialed up even more this year.
On paper the Flames are a better team and should be favored, however they don’t possess the elite level talent Edmonton does which can be a huge game-changer on any given night. If there’s any two forwards in the league who can take-over a game and steal a win for their team it’s McDavid and Draisaitl. The key for the Flames in this series will be to contain them as much as possible. If they can do that, their superior goaltending and defense should carry them to some big wins over their rivals.