What a difference two months make.
When the Edmonton Oilers made their first trip to the Scotiabank Saddledome this season, the Flames were mired in a disastrous start that saw them go 1-3-0 in the first four games. They had hoped to turn things around in their first meeting with their provincial rivals but dropped a 5-2 decision to the Oilers on Oct. 17.
Now, the Flames are riding a 10-game winning streak at the ‘Dome — tied for the franchise record, have pushed themselves to a 16-16-2 record, and sit just two points shy of a playoff spot.
“We’re the same team, same players but a much more confident group,” head coach Bob Hartley explained. “Pieces of our game have come together. When you look at why you lose games or why you’re on losing streaks, you’re going to play good games during those bad streaks but there’s always going to be one, two, three pieces of your game that are missing and lots of times they decide the outcome of a game.
“Many of those pieces are back together and we’re playing a complete game. Look at our game against Winnipeg, that was by far our best game of the season.”
The team has come a long way but they are far from satisfied.
“It was important to get back in the mix, we did that, but now we have to make that next step and get ourselves into a playoff spot,” Mark Giordano said.
“This is a huge game if you look at the standings today. We want to try to get back into the playoff picture and so do they. We’re sort of neck and neck trying to get there.”
With a playoff spot in sight, the Flames have an excellent opportunity to make big gains this week. Tonight’s game kicks off a string of games against Pacific Division rivals.
“Obviously the division games are going to be some of the biggest for us,” Matt Stajan stated. “It starts tonight. We know the importance. They’re all four-point games and we have a lot of them against our division coming up so we’ve got to be ready.”
Not only is tonight a four-point match-up, but also a chance to make franchise history. Calgary tied their previous record of 10 straight wins on home ice when they defeated Winnipeg on Dec. 22 and a victory tonight would set a new record.
“We take pride playing on home ice and winning at home has just kind of happened. We’re obviously aware now that winning 10 or 11 in a row on home ice. We’re just taking it one game at a time — it’s cliché but that’s all we’re trying to do,” Stajan said. “Our goal is to get back into the playoff picture and we’ve done a good job doing that and home ice has been a key to that.
“We’re definitely more comfortable on home ice. It’s been like that since I got here. It’s a great building to play in. Coming in here as a road team — I remember when I played in Toronto — there’s a little bit of altitude and some Eastern teams fight the time change. You have to take advantage and it’s definitely been a good place for us. You look at the playoffs last year, it was key for us to win the first round and also to get to the playoffs and this year it’s key for us to get back into the playoff race.”
Karri Ramo will make his sixth straight start tonight. The netminder is 6-2-0 in the month of December and is coming off a 19-save performance in the Flames 4-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets on Dec. 22.
With Cam Talbot getting the call last night in Vancouver, Anders Nilsson is expected to start for the Oilers. The 25-year-old is 10-9-1 with a 2.79 GAA and a .910 save percentage this year.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Johnny Gaudreau — The Flames sophomore gave his team an early Christmas present on Dec. 22 when he notched his second hat trick of the month in a 4-1 win over the Jets. Gaudreau, who leads Calgary in scoring, has been sensational on home ice, picking up 27 of his 37 points at the Scotiabank Saddledome. The forward also leads all NHLers in the month of December with 16 points.
“He changes a game,” Joe Colborne said. “Every time he steps on the ice, he can be that difference-maker and there aren’t too many guys in the League that can do that. You have (Patrick) Kane, you have one or two other guys, and Johnny. Everyone kept saying, ‘Oh, he’s kind of like a poor man’s Patty Kane.’ Well, he’s showing he’s right up there with the best players in the League. We get to see him do it every day and we see him do it in practice, but he never ceases to amaze us.”
Taylor Hall — The 24-year-old leads his team in scoring with 15 goals and 39 points in 36 skates this season. He has four points in his last three games and his line — comprised of Hall, center Leon Draisaitl and right winger Teddy Purcell — has combined for 10 points in that span.
Flames winger Michael Frolik (upper body) will not play tonight.
On the Oilers side, they will be without Oscar Klefbom (undisclosed), Brandon Davidson (ribs), Nail Yakupov (ankle), Connor McDavid (clavicle), Rob Klinkhammer (foot), and Andrew Ference (undisclosed).
“What we are trying to do with Sam is the same thing as we did with Sean Monahan, we’re doing with Ferly, we did with Johnny Gaudreau — to teach them to play the game in three zones, on both sides of the puck. This is a critical age for them. I know many people are looking at how many goals a player scores and you kind of dictate a rookie’s season by the number of goals but that’s now how we work here. We want to make him a complete player … He’s playing in a way that gives us a chance to win … He’s a special player learning the way to play in the NHL right now.” – Bob Hartley on Sam Bennett
The Flames projected lineup for Sunday, Dec. 27 vs. the Edmonton Oilers