Edmonton, 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.
Season Series: This will be the fourth of six meetings between the two Northwest Division rivals. Calgary won the first three editions of the Battle of Alberta this season, outscoring Edmonton 10-4 in those games.
Big Story: While the Flames jockey for playoff positioning, their provincial rivals continue to deal with a rash of injuries to their top young players.
Flames: Calgary is in its home province but not its home arena as it wraps up a three-game trip. After visiting Edmonton, Calgary will head home for a rematch with the Sharks prior to the All-Star Game, so a solid outing will go a long way for the Flames who will want to feel good about their game as the month of January ends. The road trip so far as ended in a pair of 2-1 shootout decisions -- a loss at San Jose on Tuesday and a win at Los Angeles two nights later.
"It was a gritty game," captain Jarome Iginla said. "They played well defensively, especially after the first period. We only had a few shots, but we just stayed with it and didn't get flustered."
Oilers: Times have been tough for the Oilers since the New Year; Edmonton has lost seven of its nine games-- as well as three of its top young players. Taylor Hall joined the injured list on Tuesday when he suffered a severe laceration to his forehead during the warmup Tuesday in Columbus after a collision with a teammate. He needed 30 stitches and sat out against the Jackets and two nights later against St. Louis. The Oilers could have used Hall -- they wound up losing 1-0 to the Blues despite a 37-save performance by Nikolai Khabibulin.
Who's Hot : Iginla has five points in as many games for the Flames, including a two-game point streak and a three-point outing. … Khabibulin has held the fort for the Oilers, who have allowed at least 33 shots against in four of their past five games.
Injury Report: For the Flames, Curtis Glencross (knee), Brendan Morrison (upper body), and Henrik Karlsson (knee) are day-to-day, while Alex Tanguay (upper body) is week-to-week and David Moss (ankle) is out indefinitely. … Hall, Eric Belanger and Ryan Whitney are day-to-day for the Oilers, while Ryan Nugent-Hopkins remains out until early February and top scorer Jordan Eberle .
Stat Pack: The Battle of Alberta, one of the NHL's great rivalries since the Flames moved to Calgary in 1980, has become a one-sided affair. The Flames have won the last eight games since being blanked in the 2010-11 opener for both teams, and 15 of the last 16. Calgary has won 10 in a row at the Scotiabank Saddledome -- including 2-1 and 3-0 wins this season.
Puck Drop: Flames coach Brent Sutter on the rendezvous with the Oilers:
""We go back up to cold weather (Edmonton) and we've got to do the same thing up there," he said. "We have a certain way we have to play. It allows us to have success when we do it the right way and again, you need goaltending and (Kiprusoff)'s gonna be there for us."