Sunday, September 13, 2015

Penticton 2015: Oilers 6, Flames 3 - Ten Post-Game Impressions (with quotes)

On a Saturday night in Penticton, the Flames and Oilers got together at the South Okanagan Events Centre and while Calgary surged in front 3-1, Edmonton battled back and with the game even, got the go-ahead goal from Leon Draisaitl on a penalty shot. Two empty net goals made the final 6-3 for the home team.

Yes, the game took place in British Columbia but the packed SOEC was very much an Edmonton barn on this night -- even with their collective chagrin that Connor McDavid did not suit up. The crowd was filled with Oilers jerseys, 'Go Oilers Go' chants broke out regularly and the Flames were booed each time they came on the ice to start periods.

Before getting into tonight's recap...

Did You Miss it? Saturday's game preview -- that you can read here -- posted after the morning skate, included conversations with:
  • Kenney Morrison - On his parents (Oilers fans) and the appeal of playing in rivalry games.
  • Brett Kulak - On the anger of being sent to the ECHL last year and his battle back.
  • Austin Carroll - On his subtle finesse game as well as the reality he's now a pro.

There were also quick quotes from Sam Bennett (is McDavid ducking you?), a pertinent health update on Morgan Klimchuk and Oliver Kylington, and Ryan Huska shared his thoughts on Tyler Wotherspoon.

Ten Post-Game Impressions

1. Respect for Rasmus

Swedish defenceman Rasmus Andersson had never had a hockey fight until Saturday night when he dropped the gloves with ornery Oilers defenceman Darnell Nurse, who has had 13 in his time in the OHL to go with one in the AHL playoffs last year.

"My first fight and I kind of got a lesson there but it's alright, I'm not really a fighter but sometimes you have to stick up for the team," said Andersson, who came away not looking the worse for wear.

While Andersson lost the fight, he won a ton of respect from his teammates. First, they showed it by all standing up on the bench and loudly banging their sticks against the boards as Andersson skated across the ice and returned to the bench after serving his major.

"Obviously we're a team and we support each other and it felt good when I saw everybody, even though I had my head filled in. It was nice," said Andersson.

Plenty of Praise Post-Game Too

"Ras is a smaller guy so for him to go up against Darnell, that says a lot about his character," said Hunter Smith, who had a heated exchange with Nurse later on, words Smith said would stay on the ice.

Bill Arnold, wearing an 'A' this tournament and clearly one of the team's leaders, was also very complimentary.

"You can't give the kid enough credit. Just the size differential and he didn't blnk an eye, he went right at him," Arnold said. "It doesn't matter the outcome of the fight when something like that happens. That kind of 'bravery' you could call it, really gives the team a jump."

The incident gave coach Ryan Huska even more good things to talk about when it comes to the superb play and effort by Andersson, a player he had already spent the last 24 hours gushing about.

"I thought it was great on him. He stuck his nose in there against a bigger guy and that shows a lot about his character and what he's willing to do on the ice," Huska said. "For me, he went up even more tonight in the way he's capable of playing and what he's willing to do for his teammates."

2. Respect for Rasmus - Part II

Not to be forgotten, prior to the scrap, Andersson was having himself a wail of a game once again and in similar circumstances to Friday night.

On this night, it was Ryan Culkin that got injured early, reducing Calgary to five defencemen.

"I worked a lot on my conditioning this summer and so far it's been helping me a lot out here, especially when Culkin went down today and unfortunately we had to go down to five defencemen again," he said.

In a dangerous first period rush, Andersson flew up the ice to be the late attacker on a rush, took a slick feed from Kenny Agostino, then walked right in and ripped a shot on goal.

Whether he's blasting a shot on net or assessing a better option -- in one sequence executing a perfect slap-pass for a dangerous chance, Andersson looks calm, cool and in charge when he has the puck on his stick. His 64 points in 67 games last season in Barrie is not looking like a fluke.

Case in point, his set-up on Arnold's goal was an excellent display of his patience as he hung onto the puck, surveyed his options as he slowly moved across the slot then sent a diagonal pass against the grain to Arnold all alone at the side of the net.

"Great pass from Andy. They don't get much easier than that," said the goal scorer.

3. Wearing Red, Seeing Red

No points again for Sam Bennett, who was once again paired with Emile Poirier but on this night had Bryce Van Brabant on the left side instead of Kenny Agostino, who skated there on Friday.

"I felt like that line couldn't really get itself going the way we would have hoped for (Van Brabant)," said Huska. "Bryce is hard on pucks, he's very heavy and hard to play against. I found he just couldn't really get into a rhythm tonight."

But it's hardly a reason for concern. Bennett is still a threat whenever he gets that puck and bursts across the blue-line. He attacks the defence with such speed that it's no wonder his lateral cuts are so effective, the defencemen are too busy back-peddling so they don't get bowled over.

Also on display once again was Bennett's fiery temper. After an incident early in the first period in which he was the target of some stickwork, Bennett decided an eye-for-an-eye was the appropriate form of justice and he gave a subtle little jab of his stick into the gut of Greg Chase later that shift.

No exaggeration. I fully expect Bennett to be under the skin of three-quarters of the Western Conference by Christmas. To say he's full of piss and vinegar would be an understatement. The P&V is overflowing with this guy as if it's delivered to him prior to each game by tanker truck.

Realizing it was September 12 and there are way more important games still to come, Huska did the smart thing and sat down Bennett for the last part of the third with Taylor Burke taking his place on the top line, although not really taking his place on the top line if you know what I mean. The Flames were down just one goal at the time.

"We're in a situation where I don't necessarily think he has to prove anything later in the game if things are going to get a little more physical," said Huska.

Assuming Bennett gets the final game off, which wouldn't surprise me, he'll be back in action next against these same Oilers only this time in an NHL preseason game. That night and all nights you're attending a game live, keep your eyes affixed on Bennett whenever he is on the ice. It will be worth it.

4. Good Goaltending Again

Jon Gillies threw down the gauntlet with his performance on Friday night and despite yielding four goals, Mason McDonald responded with a pretty solid effort as well on Saturday, making 27 saves.

"I thought Mason was great in net. I don't think the score was a great indicator of how well he played," said Huska.

McDonald was sharp early when Calgary was carrying the play but when Edmonton took over for the final 40 minutes, he didn't have much of a chance on most of the goals. One eluded him because he couldn't even see it -- screened by human eclipse Keegan Kanzig in front.

On the go-ahead goal, it was a nice play by Draisaitl.

"It was an awfully quick release," McDonald said. "He came down, I kind of had in the back of my mind he was going to shoot. He shot but he kind of made a perfect shot, hit the top of my stick, right under my pad. Nothing I can do about it."

Huska says with McDonald, he's watching an improved goalie from a year ago.

"A much better goaltender this viewing than what he was last year and I thought he was good last year. He's taken another step and a lot of that comes with maturing. He's putting some size on, he's stronger and he looks comfortable in net. Tonight, he looked in control."

5. Steady as a Rock

It's interesting. When I asked Bill Arnold on Friday to tell me what he thought were his three strongest attributes as a hockey player, offence was not one of them. Yet Johnny Gaudreau's former centre clearly has a decent touch around the net, which combined with his work ethic and two-way game, makes him a prospect to keep an eye on.

On Saturday, Arnold had a goal and an assist. First, his nice pass led to Andrew Mangiapane's goal that made it 2-0.

"Mange just drove the net. I think he was doing a split when he scored that goal. A really nice play by him."

On his aforementioned power play goal where he took that superb pass from Andersson and was alone at the side of the net, the goal may not happen if he just shot it right away with his head down. Maybe he buries the puck into the goaltender's pads.

Instead, Arnold got the puck, showed a goal scorer's poise by waiting, waiting, completing a sudoku, then waiting some more before finally roofing a puck over the down-and-out Oilers goaltender.

"I knew we had the man advantage so I just took my time, made sure I picked my head up. I was kind of surprised at how wide open the net was. I kind of panicked for a second," said Arnold.

Huska says he's expects big things from the 23-year-old this season.

"You need him to take another step. He's a guy that fits with Emile and Bryce and Kenny. They have to be guys that have to be contributing nightly, in order to push for a position for the big team," said Huska. "We're expecting more out of him both in who he's playing against -- we'd like to see him be able to play against top lines -- and then elevating his play like he was able to do with his line tonight where they generated a little bit of offence for us."

6. Defensive Woes

There was once an era where big stay-at-home defencemen were coveted players. But that's not this era nor is Calgary that team if that's your MO. It makes you wonder about Keegan Kanzig's future.

I thought the giant 6-foot-7 blue-liner struggled on Saturday. His decision-making is questionable at times at both ends of the ice. He seems to get caught running around when under pressure. Considering the calibre of the swift-moving, puck-distributing defencemen that have arrived in the organization lately, Kanzig is really going to be in tough to climb the depth chart.

Now to be fair, the defence on the whole struggled on this night outside of Andersson. Kulak was good at times but not so good at other times. Kenney Morrison looked rusty and not having the benefit of having played the night before, that's to be expected. Their play contributed to the team being bottled up in their own zone much of the final 40 minutes.

"First period I thought was good for us. But then they started to skate and we didn't match the skating," said Huska. "We stood around and watched for most of the second and third periods so it was tough for us to generate much momentum."

7. Day in the Life of a Hunter

The more I see Hunter Smith, the more skeptical I become that he'll play another game in the OHL. Don't get me wrong, he's a long, long way away from playing in the NHL, but he's definitely someone ready to take his talents to Stockton in the AHL.

Saturday was a glimpse into what Smith is all about.

First, there were a couple of his trademark thundering body checks, which rattled the entire building and turned nearby Lake Skaha into a wave pool. The aftermath is usually the same too. The victim slowing staggers to their feet, straightens their helmet, takes inventory of what day it is and where they are, then meanders over to the players bench.

Then there was his slashing penalty, whacking the stick of an Oilers player with such force that it splintered like it was made from balsa wood.

"I have to bring that every night. Work hard, take my hits when they're there and play within the rules," said Smith. "But I can't be putting my team down. We ran into penalty trouble and I was part of that. I've got to be more careful."

Of course, one can't forget Smith's goal, which were rare feats a few years ago but is an area he's become quite adept at lately. Hustling to get to the net, he was stationed in the right place to neatly convert a centring pass from Pavel Karnaukhov.

"Karny hit me on the backdoor with a little tap-in gift. Those are the goals you've got to put away and those are the goals I score around the net."

8. More Love for Lomberg

Pesky Ryan Lomberg had everybody talking about him on Friday night and once again on Saturday, Huska identified the scrappy winger among his short list of players that stood out.

While he again frequently found himself in the offensive zone and getting his fair share of scoring chances, the play that had everybody talking -- regardless of the outcome -- was his effort on the back-check in the sequence that led to the penalty shot and winning goal.

Racing back as fast as he could and with a desperate dive and perfectly executed swiping of his stick, Lomberg knocked the puck away cleanly, or so it appeared. However, after recent change to the NHL rulebook, that play that never would have been a penalty in years past -- as he struck the puck first -- resulted in a penalty shot (although there was debate outside the Flames dressing room post-game around whether it maybe should have only been a penalty and not a penalty shot.)

"The unfortunate thing is that rule changed last year," said Huska. "It was the right call, even though you wish it wouldn't have gone against us in that situation because he did come out of nowhere and work so hard to get himself back there."

Skating on the fourth line with relative unknowns Taylor Burke and Louick Marcotte, Lomberg was lauded once again by Huska for being "noticeable with his effort and his skating".

9. Magnifico Mangiapane

Sixth round picks are not supposed to be this noticeable. Especially sixth round picks from less than three months ago.

Described as "very good" by Huska, 5-foot-10 sparkplug Andrew Mangiapane continued his impressive body of work in Penticton by once again demonstrating all the qualities you'd expect to see from a first round pick. You can see how he racked up 108 points for the Barrie Colts last season and why he could surpass 120 this year.

His engine runs non-stop, he's constantly making smart decisions and creative plays with the puck, he has that rare ability to make something out of nothing, and he doesn't seem to be a perimeter player either. So far, he's demonstrated a willingness to get his nose dirty and take the puck hard to the net or vehemently pursue a loose puck along the end boards.

It bears repeating that he was drafted with the 166th pick, which was the exact same pick that Theoren Fleury was selected with.28 years ago.

10. Resuscitating the BOA

Not one player in either line-up on Saturday night had been born the last time the Flames and Oilers met in the Stanley Cup playoffs (1991). In fact, the two teams have both made the post-season in the same season only once over that span (2005-06). That sums up how long it's been since the Battle of Alberta was an actual thing.

But you get the sense that's about to change with the Oilers surely heading in the right direction now with their off-season changes at coach and GM and with McDavid's arrival in the provincial capital.

What won't hurt either is the Flames and Oilers of the future, as on display Saturday night, playing each other 12 times a year in the AHL. That's thanks to the new realignment this summer that sees five teams in California now including Stockton (Calgary) and Bakersfield (Edmonton).

Refreshingly, Saturday's game did have some intensity to it beginning with Poirier getting in a shoving match just 30 seconds into the game. The renewed rivalry was the hot topic all day and the Nurse shenanigans will only fuel the fire for the next time these two organizations meet, which will be in eight days when split squads tangle in both Calgary and Edmonton.

Edmonton may have won the game and the battles on this night, but there are many more wars to come and for Alberta hockey fans, that's a good thing.

By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Go there and do so now. It's just another way to be alerted to new Calgary Flames articles that I've written.


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