GAME DAY: Oilers fall to 0-4 in Battle of Alberta season series
Stempniak scores three as Oilers drop 6-2 decision on Saturday
FLAMES 6 - OILERS 2Following a 1-0 shutout loss to the St. Louis Blues on Thursday, the Oilers followed it up with an equally as disappointing and offensively challenged 60-minute effort against their provincial rivals, dropping a 6-2 score to the Calgary Flames Saturday night at Rexall Place.
Andy Sutton and Ryan Smyth scored the Oilers' lone goals in the third period, but it was a small dent in Calgary's commanding advantage. With the loss, Edmonton drops to an 0-4 record this season in the Battle of Alberta.
AT THE MORNING SKATEEdmonton, AB - It doesn't matter what the standings read (Edmonton holds down the 14th spot in the Western Conference) or how many wins the Oilers have collected in the past 32 games (eight).
It's Saturday night and the Battle of Alberta is on tap on Hockey Night in Canada. It's what the hockey season is all about.
In three meetings this season, Calgary has emerged victorious in all, posting 3-0, 5-3 and 2-1 wins. Since the 2009-10 season, the Oilers have accumulated a 1-11-3 record against the Flames, meaning the Battle of Alberta has been as one-sided as can be in recent seasons.
There's no question that the Flames get up, but the Oilers haven't shown the same hate required to topple a division rival. It's cost them, too, since six points have been delivered to their down-south opponent without any in return.
"I'm not sure what it is," said Sam Gagner, who's notched six goals and 16 points in 24 career games vs. Calgary. "Special teams are a huge part of it, and our power-play hasn't been very good against them. It's a big thing to have that work ethic with the man-advantage, and on the penalty kill as well. When you win the special teams battle, a lot of times you come out with the win, so that's going to be very important."
The Oilers have been second best in recent matchups with Calgary, but the games rarely disappoint when it comes to emotion, intensity and excitement.
There's no question that the 16,839 in attendance tonight will be entertained, but Gagner wants them to be witness to a victory; it's something the orange and blue haven't captured since Jan. 15's overtime win over LA.
"It's an exciting game," No. 89 said. "We've gone through a little stretch here where we haven't played our best hockey, and haven't gotten the results that we would have liked, too. When you get a chance to play in a game like this, it really raises your competitive spirit. We need a game like this, where there's a lot on the line and a lot of pride, it can be a springboard for some success here."
The Oilers will get some help, too. With Jordan Eberle having returned to action in St. Louis, more are on the way. Sliced in the head by Corey Potter's skate during the warm-up in Columbus, Taylor Hall missed both games on the Oilers' quick road trip, but will be in the lineup tonight.
Hall hasn't played a game vs. Calgary this season.
"It's a big boost in here," Gagner said, noting that Hall's return has motivated the locker room. "When you see what happened, it was pretty gruesome and tough to watch. From Taylor's end, I'm sure, it was really tough to go through. To see him come back as quick as he has, it shows his character and we're getting a big boost."
"[Hall] really tried to get in the game in Columbus," Head Coach Tom Renney added. "He wants to play, he wants to play hockey and he wants to help. He, as much as anyone else, feels responsible for where we are, and he wants to do something about it.
"There's no concussion and there's no residual. The big thing was making sure that it healed enough so that if there was impact, it (the wound) would stay together. I don't think that's an issue."
Hall skated on the team's top power-play unit this morning and is excited to get back in. Sporting a black eye, bandage, skull cap and slightly larger helmet to protect the gnarly, six-inch long gash, he looked no worse for wear as he dominated the drills with usual ease.
"I feel good enough to play tonight, and everyone agrees that it's a good idea. We're going to take the necessary precautions. With the helmet and everything, I don't really feel anything. If I didn't play tonight, I feel as though I'd be cheating the team. I'm ready to go and I'm ready to play."
On Thursday in St. Louis when Hall addressed the media at the Scottrade Center, the black eye was completely closed, prohibiting the sophomore's vision. It's opened up now, however, and there doesn't appear to be an issue.
"I was concerned about that, but he's got real good vision," Renney explained.
Hall, like Gagner, is poised to make an impression in a game that, to a man, has become a source of pride; there's nothing to lose, but so much to gain.
"[Calgary is] our biggest rival and a team we want to beat consistently," he said. "There's no better time to start than tonight on Hockey Night in Canada. We're all anxious for it, and there should be no reason why we can't play well tonight."
"I don't know what to expect (tonight)," Renney added. "I think Calgary is playing well and the additions they've made have helped their team, and I think they're well balanced. It might take a while to get a winner tonight.
"There's nothing like the necessity to win. And right now it's necessary. It's that simple."
Along with Hall, Eric Belanger makes his return to the lineup tonight. Josh Green and Ryan O'Marra will both be the odd-men odd as a result. Nikolai Khabibulin get his second straight start in goal, looking to improve on his 11-14-4 record, 2.36 goals-against average and .921 save percentage.
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com - Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick