The Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers resume the Battle of Alberta at Scotiabank Saddledome on Saturday (10 p.m. ET; NHLN, CBC, SN, TVAS, NHL.TV) and newcomers on each side of the rivalry said they can’t wait.
“I’m excited, obviously,” Flames goalie Jacob Markstrom said. “It’s going to be a fun game and watching from the outside looking in, it’s been a lot of battles and some tough games but with a lot of emotions.”
Markstrom signed a six-year contract with Calgary on Oct. 9 after playing his first nine NHL seasons for the Florida Panthers and Vancouver Canucks, so Saturday will be his first experience with the Battle of Alberta.
It’s the same for defenseman Tyson Barrie, who played 10 NHL seasons with the Colorado Avalanche and Toronto Maple Leafs before signing a one-year contract with the Oilers on Oct. 10.
“It gets a lot of play around here,” Barrie said of the rivalry. “It should be a lot of fun. It’s been a great rivalry for a long time and obviously it boiled over last year so I’m sure that’s going to carry over. I always like playing against Calgary so hopefully I carry that over and get into it a little bit.”
The NHL realigned its divisions this season due to travel concerns related to COVID-19, including the Scotia North Division, which consists of the seven NHL teams based in Canada playing exclusively against each other in a 56-game schedule. As a result, the Flames and Oilers are scheduled to play 10 games against each other instead of the usual four or five games, adding the likelihood for the rivalry to become even more intense.
The 10 scheduled head-to-head games will mark the first time that the Flames and Oilers will play 10 or more games in the same season since 1990-91, when they played 15 games including Edmonton’s seven-game win in the Division Semifinals that ended with a Game 7 overtime goal by Esa Tikkanen.
Last season, it took four games between the teams to reach a boiling point.
Calgary won, 5-1, in Edmonton on Dec. 27, and followed that up with a 4-3 home win on Jan. 11. The second game was decided on a power-play goal scored by forward Elias Lindholm at 39 seconds of the third period. Lindholm scored while Edmonton forward Zack Kassian was serving a double-minor for roughing and a misconduct for retaliating to a heavy hit by Calgary forward Matthew Tkachuk.
The Flames won again, 4-3, in a shootout at Edmonton on Jan. 29. An intense game featured 38 penalty minutes, including a scrap between Kassian and Tkachuk. It ended with Flames goalie David Rittich tossing his stick into the air in celebration, which infuriated the Oilers.
Edmonton responded three days later when captain Connor McDavid scored two goals and forward Leon Draisaitl had four assists in an 8-3 win in Calgary. It was another physical game with 102 penalty minutes and a center-ice skirmish between Oilers goalie Mike Smith and Flames goalie Cam Talbot.
Markstrom said he’s not preparing for a similar scenario Saturday.
“My job is to stop the puck and that’s what I’m practicing,” he said.
Barrie agreed, saying the focus for the Oilers must be on winning the game.
“With a short season and points so valuable, we’ve got to focus on the way we play and beating them on the scoreboard as opposed to getting into it,” Barrie said.
Forward Kyle Turris, who signed a two-year contract with Edmonton on Oct. 9, had always been a fan of the Battle of Alberta during his previous 12 NHL seasons.
“You always pay attention to that because it’s fun to watch,” Turris said. “To be a part of it, it’s exciting … just a real intense, vicious battle here and to actually be a part of (it) here is exciting.”
Although the Battle of Alberta rivalry hasn’t been a hot topic among the Oilers, the tone of any conversation is obvious.
“Just the hatred that exists between the teams,” Turris said. “They’ve touched on how physical and intense it is. To play [the Flames] 10 times this year is going to be a lot of fun.”
The emotion and intensity will be a given, but focus will be as essential given each team’s start to the season.
The Oilers (6-6-0) have won three in a row and with 12 points are tied with the Vancouver Canucks for fourth place in the division. McDavid leads the NHL with 24 points (eight goals, 16 assists) and Draisaitl is second with 22 points (seven goals, 15 assists). Each has an eight-game point streak.
The Flames (4-5-1) have played two fewer games but have lost two in a row, and with nine points are sixth in the division. The top four teams in each division will qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Defenseman Christopher Tanev, who played his first 10 NHL season with the Canucks before signing with the Flames on Oct. 9, said the game Saturday would be important, no matter who they were playing,
“It’s a big game for us after we’ve lost the last two in Winnipeg (to the Jets),” Tanev said. “It’s going to be a bigger game because it’s Edmonton and with the emotions and like you said about the Battle of Alberta stuff. It’s just as big a game as playing whoever, Toronto, Montreal. In this shortened season, we’ve got to win as many games as we can.”
Even with the potential for rising temperature and tempers, Flames coach Geoff Ward believes the positives far outweigh the risks in the Battle of Alberta.
“Both teams were relevant last year so the rivalry was visible again,” Ward said. “Anytime that you play a rival, the emotional attachment to the game is there. Usually you can take the standings and throw them away. So, it’ll be a fun game [Saturday]. Both teams look forward to it. It should bring out the best in both teams.”