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The Edmonton Oilers open the first of back-to-back pre-season Battles of Alberta tonight when the Calgary Flames pay a visit to Rexall Place.
The Oilers are coming off a 2-1 setback on Thursday night to the Canucks.
The Flames, meanwhile, also faced the Canucks though they played them twice, on Tuesday. They won at the Saddledome 5-1, but lost on the road by a score of 4-3.
AT THE MORNING SKATE
Head Coach Tom Renney doesn’t put too much stock into wins and losses in the pre-season, but when you’re going head-to-head with the Calgary Flames, his opinion can sway.
“I like what winning teaches you, and feeling connected to success,” he said at Saturday’s morning skate.
“More than anything, we’re looking for execution.”
And that’s exactly what the pre-season entails. ‘Opportunity’ is this year’s mantra, and something the Oilers’ bench boss will provide to young players eager to make an impression.
For this evening’s contest vs. Calgary, the Oilers assembled new lines in preparation for a 6pm puck-drop in the Battle of Alberta.
SPEED, SKILL & SIZE
“I'm excited to play with Hall and Nugent-Hopkins,” Hartikainen said. “It's a good opportunity to show my skill and help them as well. It should be good.
“I need to work the corners and help make some room; create turnovers and make sure I keep my head up to pass. That's my game. I don’t want to do anything that I normally wouldn’t do. I’ll hit guys, be hard on the puck and drive to the net.”
On Nugent-Hopkins’ other wing, Hall is thrilled with the new mixture.
“It's going to be a lot of fun for me,” he said. “I've never really had a chance to play with him yet; today's morning skate was the first time. For a player like me to play with an elite puck-mover and a guy that has that kind of hockey mind is very exciting.”
With speed, skill, toughness and strong, two-way play, Renney is equally as excited to see what his new top line is able to choreograph.
“We want to see if there's some synergy there, and maybe a glimpse into the future – we won't get too far ahead of ourselves. As far as I'm concerned, it's another opportunity to evaluate another combination of people.”
While Hall is sure to be on the opening night roster, Hartikainen’s future is unclear. The 21-year-old had an impressive debut last season, scoring three goals and two assists in 12 NHL games.
This season, he’s wired to make ends meet right away.
“I've been pretty happy with my camp so far,” Hartikainen explained. “I had a good game in Saskatoon, so I know I can [make the team]. I need to keep scoring goals. The coaches haven't said anything negative about me, so we'll see what happens over the next two or three games.
“I think I've been doing well, but there are still some things that I need to do to develop my game. We're all trying to get better here.”
Speaking of opportunity, 27-year-old forward Ryan Keller has been presented with another chance to shine. He’ll skate on a line with Sam Gagner and Ryan Jones vs. Calgary, hoping to carry over his early pre-season success into the Battle of Alberta.
“It's a great opportunity,” he said. “You've got to go out there and not try to do too much; play within your limits and play with energy.
“I’m going to get in on the forecheck and work [Calgary’s] ‘D’ down low. Sam (Gagner) and Ryan (Jones) are two proven players that know how to play in this league. Any way I can complement them on a line, I'll be looking to do that. We’re going to be a good trio.”
Keller signed a one-year deal with the Oilers back on Jul. 4. He spent 2010-11 with the AHL’s Binghamton Senators, collecting 32 goals and 51 points. He’s hoping to earn a more regular NHL role in Edmonton.
Showing what he’s got in a heated division rivalry could help propel him there.
“I think in many ways the pre-season brings out the best in you. For players that are battling for work, getting tossed into the Battle of Alberta is great. It’s a tough ball game, but I’m expected a real intense battle tonight.”
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com. Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick
LINE COMBOS: Oilers fans have their first opportunity to see 2010 and 2011 first-round picks Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins together on the same line. Teemu Hartikainen will be on the right side. Sam Gagner gets back into the lineup after playing on Thursday. He's between Ryan Jones and Ryan Keller. Eric Belanger, Josh Green and Tyler Pitlick make up the third unit while Finn Antti Tyrvainen, Swede Anton Lander and Ryan Martindale make up the fourth line.
ON THE BLUELINE: The Oilers have arguably five of their top seven blueliners in the lineup tonight. Cam Barker is paried with camp tryout hopeful Kirill Tulupov. Andy Sutton makes his Oilers pre-season debut alongside Tom Gilbert. Finally, Theo Peckham and Jeff Petry make up the third pairing.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Anton Lander, who had a goal in his first game playing with Magnus Paajarvi and Linus Omark, plays with Tyrvainen and Martindale this time around as the coaching staff likely wants to see how he does in a checking line role.
47 BAERTSCHI, Sven
57 BOUWMA, Lance
17 BOURQUE, Rene
32 BYRON, Paul
26 DESBIENS, Guillaume
10 HAGMAN, Niklas
19 MEYER, Stefan
48 NEMISZ, Greg
71 PATTERSON, Gaelan
59 REINHART, Max
18 STAJAN, Matt
22 STEMPNIAK, Lee
36 WALTER, Ben
33 BABCHUK, Anton
54 BREEN, Chris
5 GIORDANO, Mark
23 HANNAN, Scott
42 HENRY, Jordan
29 MIKKELSON, Brendan
27 SMITH, Derek
35 KARLSSON, Henrik
37 IRVING, Leland
UP FRONT: Five players expected to be in Calgary at the end of camp will suit up tonight. That includes Paul Byron, Matt Stajan, Lee Stempniak, Niklas Hagman and
ON THE BLUELINE: Anton Babchuk brings his big shot to the Calgary blueline. Oilers fans will also get a look at off-season acquisition Scott Hannan as well as incumbent Mark Giordano.
BETWEEN THE PIPES: Henrik Karlsson is likely to get the start in goal for the Flames.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Guillaume Desbiens has a knack for being an agitating player and getting in timely scraps. The right winger had 11 goals in 53 games for the Manitoba Moose of the AHL and looks to earn a spot in Calgary. He's played 13 games in his NHL career so far.
- Marc Ciampa, edmontonoilers.com