The Oilers and Flames meet tonight in a battle of two undefeated teams. Wins in the preseason may not mean much, but it has been a lot more fun to win these games than it would have been to lose them. It's even better that the Oilers lead the entire NHL in goal differential this preseason at +11. I'm not trying to get all pie-in-the-sky here, but losing is the kind of thing that wears on people, and especially competitive people. Given the amount of losing I'm expecting from this team during the year, it sure is nice to start out with some positive energy.
But all that positivity will face a tough test tonight as, for the first time, the opponents are icing (almost all of) their best players. It's been fun watching Magnus Paajarvi beat up on lesser lights, but it'll be a lot more instructive to watch him compete against legitimate NHL defenders like Robyn Regehr and Jay Bouwmeester.
One of the other Calgary defenders is Steve Staios, who returns to Edmonton for the first time in Calgary uniform tonight. When Ryan Smyth and Jason Smith came back for the first time, they received a very appropriate thank-you from the organization and the fans. I can only hope that Staios gets the same treatment, even if it is preseason. He may not have been generating much in the way of surplus value over his last couple of years in Edmonton, but he made a significant contribution to those wonderful early-2000s teams that many of us remember fondly, and was a tremendous in the community. Even on those teams Staios was a lesser light, so it seems strangely appropriate that his return comes with little in the way of fanfare during the preseason, but at least for me, a hearty cheer for Steve Staios is in order.
Calgary (5-0-0) at Edmonton (4-0-0), 7:00 PM MDT
Television: SNET - EDM
SB Nation's Oilers vs. Flames Game Page
Read more about the Flames at Matchsticks and Gasoline
Some thoughts on tonight's game:
- Linus Omark sits out for the second consecutive game, and the young Swede must feel like he hasn't been given quite the same chance to shine as some of the other men in contention for jobs up front. With only one more game to go after tonight, it looks more and more like Omark will begin the year in Oklahoma.
- And as for that battle, Shawn Belle is in an even more tenuous position than Omark, sitting out for the third straight game. You'd have to think that if the Oilers were strongly considering him for a roster spot, he'd be getting a few more reps. It looks to me like he's probably running third in the three-way battle for the last spot on defense (Jason Strudwick's spot is pretty much guaranteed in my opinion).
- As for the rest of the defense, this is the first game the coaching staff has gone away from the "sure thing - trying out" pairing system. I wouldn't be at all surprised if the six that we see on the blueline tonight are the same six that open the season a week from now. This is a big game for Theo Peckham, and considering all of the weight in the Calgary's line-up, I'd be pretty surprised if he didn't have ample opportunity to show all of his skills. Let's hope he takes advantage.
- The Oilers and Flames are both teams with some players who fit better under liabilities than they do assets. I wonder if they've had any conversations about Sheldon Souray. It could actually be a nice fit if the Oilers would rather have Steve Staios and Ales Kotalik than pay Souray to play in the minors or for someone else (if he's lost on re-entry waivers).
- The top two lines for the Oilers in this game look like they might be what the Oilers start the season with. To be honest, I'm not all that thrilled with them, and with the Hall-Horcoff-Eberle trio in particular. Horcoff is probably the best defensive player on the team, but with two kids on his flanks, the line will probably need to get at least some shelter in order to have any success, and to me, using Horcoff in a sheltered role seems like a very poor use of assets.