AT THE MORNING SKATE
CALGARY - The Edmonton Oilers will be looking to make a statement over their provincial rivals tonight as the Battle of Alberta reignites at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
As a result, the Oilers have added some brute to the lineup.
When asked if he recalled a game last season when Flames winger Curtis Glencross challenged Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Hordichuk smiled and nodded. He understands his role better than anyone and is eagerly anticipating the opportunity to exercise it tonight.
"Protection. That's exactly what I'm going to be out there for," Hordichuk said. "I'm going to go out and try to take some liberties on their guys, too. "It's going to be a great game a physical game and I hope our line can get there early and set the tone. I'm hoping we can bring a little bit of an impact and, at the same time, give the young guys a little protection out there."
"We're looking at it on a game-by-game basis," added Head Coach Ralph Krueger. "It's an opportunity to get some other players in the lineup and get our lines rolling. It's nothing personal against Harti. We look at it as a chance for him to watch and come back stronger for our next game. He's the kind of player we need more of.
"With the pace we're under and the amount of games we're playing in such a short period of time, we need our entire roster to be installed. Like I said earlier this week, Corey Potter being out last game had nothing to do with his play. We wanted to get to know our roster and get everyone involved.
"It's about getting people in there and seeing what they bring."
Hordichuk, who had a bird's eye view of Thursday's emotional come-from-behind effort, believes games like that can bring a team together.
"That's what it's all about," he said. "When you look back at everything at the end of the year, you think about the things that brought you together. Those are all things we're trying to do, have good third periods and never give up, whether there's three seconds or 10 seconds on the clock. At any point in a game we have enough skill in the room to make an impact on the scoreboard. It's all about developing a reputation in the League as a character team, and that's what we want to be this year."
CHANGING OF THE GUARD
Prior to Feb. 21, 2012's dominant 6-1 win over the Flames (which also happened to be Ralph Krueger's first as an NHL head coach), the Oilers had lost 10 straight at the Saddledome dating back to Oct. 17, 2008 when the orange and blue defeated the Flames 4-3.
Since then, the Oilers have won two straight against their Northwest Division counterparts are eager to continue that trend with another big performance tonight.
"It's always a battle when we play each other," Nugent-Hopkins said. "It's a game that's not hard to get up for, that's for sure."
Nugent-Hopkins has collected three goals in four career games vs. Calgary. He's also a bit of a Hockey Night star, posting six goals and 12 points in his career on CBC's Saturday night spectacle.
Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle currently lead all Oilers forwards in ice time. All three are averaging over 20 minutes per game -- a substantial increase over last season's totals. Hall led the young guns with an average ice time of 18:13 in 2011-12.
Krueger's message is simple. If the Oilers are going to have success in this shortened, 48-game campaign, it will happen because the kids are driving the bus.
Your best players will succeed in that role if given the opportunity to do so.
"We've spoken a lot about needing to maintain the pace," Krueger said. "We need four good lines to be able to do that. The power-play time has increased their ice time, but we're making a concerted effort to get them out there as much as possible. As long as we keep their shifts short and maintain our pace as a team, they should be able to hit 20 minutes on a regular basis."
FISTRIC'S FIRST BATTLE OF ALBERTA
Edmonton-born defenceman Mark Fistric made his Oilers debut Thursday night vs. Los Angeles at Rexall Place. The 6-foot-2, 233-pound rearguard has had this game on his calendar since his acquisition.
"It's exciting. You watch it and hear a lot about [the Battle of Alberta], but I've never had the chance to take part in it," he said. "Need we points. This season's short and every single point matters. Calgary is going to be a little desperate for a win and as are we."
Registering four hits (one of the demolishing variety as he leveled Jordan Nolan), Fistric was a force in Thursday's win. While he admits he was "a little rusty," the veteran was pleased with the outcome.
"As the game wore on, I got more comfortable and starting settling in," Fistric said. "That LA game was ‘Oilers' hockey. We played well, took care of our own net and stayed patient. We didn't let frustration creep into our game and we were rewarded for it.
"That's what we have to keep doing and will be focused on tonight."
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com | Follow me on Twitter @ryandittrick
NHL.COM GAME PREVIEW
Season series: The Battle of Alberta will have four full stanzas this season, but this will be the only one until April 1.The Flames took two of three in both cities last seasons and have won 15 of the last 18, but the Oilers have won the last two meetings. Their 6-1 victory on Feb. 21, 2012, ended a 10-game losing streak in the Scotiabank Saddledome.
Big story: It's been a long time, but Oilers fans have waited patiently for all these high draft picks to break out and pass the Flames in the standings on their way to bigger and better things. This game could make an early statement in the Alberta rivalry. The Flames can't get too caught up in that as they try to avoid going without a win in their first four games for the first time since 2000-01.
Oilers: Despite going 2-1-0 in their first three games, the Oilers are wary of falling back into their habit of slow starts. If they gut out games like Thursday's 2-1 overtime win against the defending Stanley Cup champion Kings, they needn't worry much.
The penalty-filled game looked like it would be pushed into overtime on Ryan Nugent-Hopkins' 6-on-4 goal with 1:05 left, but referees disallowed it due to goalie interference. Instead, Nail Yakupov tied the game in highlight-reel fashion with 4.7 seconds left, giving Sam Gagner a chance to grab the extra point with a power-play goal 3:01 into overtime.
"That's as close to a playoff atmosphere as we've had here," Gagner said. "We need to win these tight games, so it feels good."
Flames: The young guns of Edmonton may be riding into town, but in Calgary, rookie Sven Baertschi is wondering whether he will suit up Saturday night. Coach Bob Hartley has been shuffling his rotations of late, and the 2011 first-round pick found himself on the fourth line at Friday's practice. With Jiri Hudler and Roman Cervenka returning, Baertschi could be the odd man out as Hartley manipulates and molds the team to his system.
"Maybe he changes his mind tomorrow," Baertschi said to the Calgary Sun about Hartley's decision. Baertschi has no points, four penalty minutes and three shots on goal in his first three outings.
"It's gonna be a competitive lineup," Hartley said in the Sun. "Everyone has to fight for his ice time. Whether it's Jarome Iginla, whether it's Alex Tanguay, whether it's Sven Baertschi, this is the NHL and only one thing matters, it's to win hockey games.
"We will make the decision [Saturday] what is best for the hockey club."
Who's hot: Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Justin Schultz and Gagner all have a goal and three assists, while Yakupov has scored twice in three games. … Curtis Glencross has two goals and two assists in three games so far for Calgary.
Injury report: With Hudler and Cervenka due back, the Flames should be at full strength save for a long-term injury to defenseman Anton Babchuk (shoulder). … Oilers defenseman Ben Eager took a punch in the eye from Vancouver's Zack Kassian on Sunday night, and has since been diagnosed with a concussion. Andy Sutton (knee), Theo Peckham (hip flexor) Ryan Jones (eye surgery) and Nikolai Khabibulin (hip) remain on injured reserve.
-- Matthew Mankiewich - NHL.com
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