Flames, Oilers meet in Battle of Alberta
CALGARY, Alberta -- Intense rivalries often bring out the best in athletes.
That's what fans will be hoping for when the Calgary Flames (10-8-1) host the first installment of the Battle of Alberta against the Edmonton Oilers (9-8-1) at the Scotiabank Saddledome on Saturday night.
"Obviously it's exciting playing against those guys," said Flames forward Johnny Gaudreau. "It's a good tradition playing against those guys. They get excited for those games and so do we. It's going to be a lot of fun and we're really looking forward to it."
Gaudreau will be looking to snap out of a personal four-game scoreless streak, while also helping the Flames rebound from their second straight setback, a 3-2 loss to the visiting Montreal Canadiens on Thursday night.
"I think our line has had a lot of good chances here in the past two, three games, and they're just not dropping in right now for us," said Gaudreau, who is tied with linemates Sean Monahan and Elias Lindholm at 19 points for second in scoring on the Flames (behind Matthew Tkachuk's 21 points). "We've got to roll with the punches here and they'll start coming."
While the Flames lost to Montreal on Thursday, the Oilers skated to a convincing 6-2 win over the Canadiens two nights earlier in Edmonton.
Now, after a short rest and a couple days of practice, the Oilers are ready for their first game against a Pacific Division foe this season.
"The Battle of Alberta definitely gets you wound up and gets you going," said Oilers coach Todd McLellan. "Any time you play a rival -- it doesn't matter if it's Alberta or in Ontario or in another league or another sport -- the fans get excited about it and the players get excited about it. Both teams are improving and pushing for a playoff spot.
"I know it's very early in the year, but these games become vitally important as they add up throughout the season. Our group will be excited about going there."
Since the Oilers also play at home on Sunday against the Vegas Golden Knights (8-10-1), McLellan has opted to start backup goalie Mikko Koskinen against the Flames before bouncing right back with netminder Cam Talbot the next night.
"Two games, we're at home and we're on the road," McLellan said. "One team went to the Stanley Cup Finals last year and the other team is a rival. We just decided that we would play Mikko on the road to experience the rivalry and Talbs at home in the back-to-back."
Although Flames bench boss Bill Peters announced on Friday that goaltender David Rittich will get the start against the Oilers, he added that he won't be afraid to go back to Mike Smith, who let in the game-winning goal through his legs in the third period on Thursday to Montreal forward Artturi Lehkonen.
"We're going to keep putting him in there when the time is right and away you go," said Peters of Smith. "He'll get another chance and when you get the chance, seize the opportunity."
Rittich made 21 saves for his first NHL shutout against the Kings in Los Angeles in his last start last Saturday.
"I feel good, but it's another game and you have to be prepared for it," said Rittich, who has a 5-1-0 record to go with a 1.91 goals-against average and a .935 save percentage. "What happened last game, it happened. Everyone in our locker room has to be prepared for another game. It's going to be a great atmosphere here and we want to win."
In a one-for-one deal that was announced on Friday, the Oilers acquired Ryan Spooner from the New York Rangers in exchange for fellow forward Ryan Strome.