In what was possibly the most important Battle of Alberta in at least a decade, in terms of impact of both teams’ positioning in the playoff picture, the Oilers lost 4-3, in regulation, to their intra-provincial rivals, the Calgary Flames.
The Oilers played fairly well on the road, to their credit. I think fans of both teams could probably agree that this was a close, entertaining, and generally good hockey game. Not much separated them, so, like many Oilers games, or any team’s games in this league, the difference came down to special teams.
The Oilers weren’t able to capitalize on their only powerplay opportunity. The Flames, However, were able to score on Zack Kassian’s roughing double-minor, which he took for pummeling Matt Tkachuk, after Tkachuk hit him hard behind the net, late in the second frame.
While many Oilers fans, myself included, to a certain extent, may have enjoyed seeing Kassian land punches on the Flames’ instigator, it’s also hard to defend Kassian’s decision, with the benefit of hindsight.
Hockey’s an emotional game for all players, but Kassian seems to play his best when he’s straddling the edge between intensity and insanity. However, when he crosses that line, his propensity to take penalties can be more destructive to the team than his intensity is worth. This appeared to be the case on Saturday night, when the Flames’ super pest was able to exploit Kassian’s hair-trigger temper, to the tune of a four minute powerplay.
That’s not to say that Kassian is the only reason the Oilers fell short. It’s just that not much else separated the two teams on Saturday night, so, of course, the cause of the game-winner will get more attention than a typical hot-headed penalty normally would.
On the bright side, this game also gave us one of McDavid’s all-time most super-human goals, a two-goal game by fan-favourite Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and a multi-point effort by recent call-up Kailer Yamamoto, who now has five points in the six games since his call-up, despite no powerplay time.
Yamamoto’s insertion into the top-six, beside Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, has given the Oilers something they’ve been sorely missing: a legitimate trio of talented players, who can play a high-skilled game together at 5 on 5, even when McDavid is on the bench.
The success of this trio at even strength gives Oilers fans at least a glimmer of hope that the Oilers can chase down their rivals for the division lead, or at least maintain a playoff position. They still may not be a very deep team, but they’re getting better in that department, and could probably improve further with another successful call-up from Bakersfield.