I think it is fair to say that the majority of the hockey world had Feb. 6 circled on their calendars. The reason for that being the first edition of the Battle of Alberta in the 2021 season unfolded in YYC.
It still feels just like yesterday where we got to watch a handful of fights between these two teams which culminated in Cam Talbot and Mike Smith throwing down.
What a time that was, so much anger, so much hostility, and ultimately a lot of fun. Which explains perfectly why so many were excited about this matchup. The first of ten instalments between the Flames and their northern neighbours.
There was a nice added bonus for Flames fans, as the team was suiting up in the reverse retro "Blasty" jerseys for the first time this year as well.
After a rough start to the season this was a perfect chance for Calgary to start to turn around their season as they have been sub-par in their first 10 games.
They had a rocky start to this game, and it wasn't full of the usual fireworks that we have seen in the Battle of Alberta (don't worry though because those will come) but in the end, they were able to walk away with a 6-4 win.
Here I will break down The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of Saturday's game.
- After patiently waiting for puck drop, it didn't take the Flames long to get on the board as Elias Lindholm notched his third goal of the season with Calgary's first shot of the game. This seemed like good news as it was only fifth time Calgary was actually able to get the puck to cross the goal line first. Continuously playing from behind is not a recipe for success. Now that changed later in the first but that will be addressed later.
- Despite trailing after the first period, Calgary showed some resilience by scoring two goals before the five minute mark of the second frame. That is the eighth time the Oilers have given up two goals in under two minutes so far this year. What made it better was it came from what we would consider as secondary scoring - Milan Lucic and Mikael Backlund - and it came while the Flames were playing some five on five hockey. That has only happened 19 times this season.
- Speaking of Backlund and Lucic they were two of seven Flames players to record more than one point - Backlund three, Lucic two - maybe this was because they were playing the Oilers and they don't have the best defence or goaltending. Whatever the factor was, two of the periods can be great examples of how to play and how a team is rewarded when they play the right way.
- One of the players that had a multi-point night was none other than Johnny Gaudreau. Despite having his nine-game point streak snapped against the Winnipeg Jets, that didn't stop him from getting back on the scoresheet and providing some jump for his entire line. He was able to score the game-winner, his seventh of the season, and he set up Sam Bennett with a sweet pass to give the team some insurance. The set up also marked his 300th career assist.
I think it is safe to say the 2019 version of Gaudreau is back for the 2021 season and all of his haters over the last season should be eating their words right now.
- Speaking of Bennett he actually ends up on the good list. This is a list that he hasn't made often or at all this year. But after being a healthy scratch and requesting trade last week, he actually showed some potential playing the entire game on the top line with Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. Could this continue and will he be the piece that the top line has been looking for? Maybe. But as we have learned throughout the Bennett tenure with Calgary he is the definition of inconsistent. All fans hope he actually figures it out because at the very least it could improve his trade value. Only time will tell what will happen with the man who has had the best moustache in the NHL since Lanny McDonald.
- The last point on the good list goes to Dillon Dube. Not only did he continue to look amazing on the line with Lindholm and Matthew Tkachuk, but he was also able to notch a goal and assist. But the best part of his night for Dube was his celebration after his goal. I am not exactly sure what it was - it looked like a combination of John Cena's 'You can't see me', and him trying to imitate the actual logo on the front of his jersey - but whatever it was I want to see more of it. Whatever keeps him growing his game and his confidence, I am all for it.
- An honourable mention on this list is Jacob Markstrom and the only reason he is an honourable mention is that he should have a permanent spot on here. If it wasn't for him we might not have won this game and he continues to be one of the best guys game in and game out.
- I feel like this is a short list for this game and here is the reason why, there was a lot of good for the Flames, as listed above, and the parts of the game that weren't good were downright ugly, which I will address shortly.
- One thing that was bad and wasn't really the fault of either team was the lack of hatred. This game was so hyped by everyone because of all the chaos that happened last season. But what was missed in all the hype was the fact that it has been a year since these two teams met and it will take some time before it gets back to that level. There is also the added factor of no fans. No matter how much the NHL tries to replace those fans with noise from speakers, they will never be able to replace the atmosphere of 19,289 fans. Hopefully, it doesn't take too long to bring the fight between these two rivals back.
- The parade to the penalty box was not pretty for the Flames. They took three penalties in the first period, and six in total, which led to five power plays. Now they are lucky Edmonton only scored on one of those chances, but you can't allow a team that has Leon Draisaitl and McDavid that many opportunities on the man advantage, especially when some of the penalties are a delay of game for flipping the puck over the glass, and an awful goalie interference penalty.
- So far this season it has been well documented that Calgary struggles playing a full 60 minutes. It has become cliche with this team. Well, that trend continued Saturday night. The first period was atrocious. They were outshot 17 to three and they went over 10 minutes between their first shot and second shot. Edmonton controlled the majority of the play and it culminated in a nice power play goal from Connor McDavid. The Flames were lucky to end the period only down by one.
- The other ugly from this contest came thanks to the men dressed in strips. Yes, the referees. I am sure they were told before the game to make sure the two teams didn't get out of control, but it felt like they were trying to control everything. It started with a Matthew Tkachuk penalty in the first period. He was called for roughing which is questionable. Once you slow down the play, you could see Tkachuk's arm tapped Kyler Yamamoto in the face, but if that's what constitutes roughing I don't think these refs have a place in the the Battle of Alberta.
Now I am not just defending a penalty against the Flames. I think the penalty that Jesse Puljujarvi took after he tied the game at three was also pretty weak. Calgary was able to capitalize and take the lead right back. A case could be made as well on the McDavid goalie interference penalty as he did have his skate taken out. I understand needing to keep everything in order because when these teams go at it, it can escalate quickly, but calling tick tacky penalties does nothing for the game at all except upset fans and players.
- Lastly in the ugly category was the Flames fourth line. Calgary honestly didn't even need to dress a fourth line as they were nonexistent. Zac Rinaldo played a whole 2:04, while Byron Froese only touched the ice for 4:50. Joakim Nordstrom had the most time on ice from that line with 12:02 - mainly because of the penalty kill - but even with those 12 minutes, he was in the box for four minutes due to bad penalties, and then he was parked on the bench for the majority of the second period.
That fourth line wouldn't even exist in an AHL game and it probably shouldn't exist again for this season. If Josh Leivo or Dominik Simon are not good enough to be in the lineup, this team has some younger more talented players than Rinaldo or Froese who can control the fourth line and deserve a solid chance at the NHL level.
The takeaway from the game, Calgary needs to figure out how to start games better. That is stating the obvious, but if they continue to play from behind this season, they are more likely to lose more games than they will win. And if they have more slow starts against the Oilers, it is only a matter of time before Connor McDavid burns Calgary to the point where they can't fight back.
But bad start or not the Flames got the win - in regulation no less - and they received scoring from all over the lineup. In the end, this league is all about winning. We will see what Flames team comes out in their next game when they face the Winnipeg Jets, on Tuesday.