Saturday, October 15, 2016

Allergic Overreaction: Exposure to Oilers Sweep Causes Rash of Ridiculous Reaction in Alberta

What does the wild rose, grey horned owl and lodgepole pine have in common?

Known respectively as the provincial flower, provincial bird and provincial tree, they are all officially recognized symbols of Alberta.

Apparently it's time to add one more to the list.

After the Edmonton Oilers completed the sweep of the season-opening home-and-home with the Calgary Flames, it seems there's an official 'provincial emotion' too and it's overreaction.


Shrieks of joy.

Shrieks of horror.

One distinct sound with two polar opposite meanings could be heard echoing across Alberta on Friday night as Leon Draisaitl's empty net goal put the finishing touches on a 5-3 victory and Edmonton's first two-game winning streak over Calgary since the 2012-13 season.


Euphoria Up North

Let's begin in the provincial capital where the Oilers picking up two wins against a team that finished bottom-five last season gives them as much reason for swagger as 80s lip-synching duo Fab Morvan and Rob Pilatus were entitled to when Milli Vanilli had two songs reach No. 1 on the music charts.
  • Girl You Know It's True? - Um, actually, I don't think it is.
  • Baby Don't Forget my NumberFlames fans won't soon forget No. 97, but beyond that...

When it's been 10 years and six coaching changes since you last made the playoffs, I understand the excitement of starting a season unbeaten in your first two games.

However, these are the same Oilers, who also opened this season by giving up 65 shots on goal in the first four periods. Not exactly squeaky tight defence. Four-goal-per-game Auston Matthews is going to love playing these guys next month.

These are the same Oilers, who don't have a top defence pairing. Sure, they have one-and-a-half second pairings, but in the name of Tom Gilbert, just because someone is used in a 1/2 role in a particular city, doesn't make him a player of that ilk league-wide. Maybe Adam Larsson or Oscar Klefbom will get there and Larsson is close, but it's not time for the Norris conversation quite yet.

These are the same Oilers, who got nothing in the first two games from Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Although bagels from a first overall pick are the types of things you can overcome when you have other first overall picks to rely on.

Or, I guess make that 'other first overall pick' singular these days. I keep forgetting Edmonton only has half as many first overalls as they used to have after their off-season purge of Taylor Hall and Nail Yakupov.


Legit Reason to be Excited

But that other No. 1 pick they do have, my goodness what a hockey player.

Now it took Edmonton not one, not two, not three, but four cracks at being first to the podium, all in the span of six years, but they have finally landed a generational franchise-changer that has the ability on his own to put the team on his back and take them to the next level. Sorry to break it to you Flames nation, but that's how good Connor McDavid is.

Winning the draft lottery in 2014 and jumping ahead of the Sabres to select first. It would not surprise me if that's a moment in NHL history we will look back on years from now as being Sidney Crosby-to-the-Pittsburgh Penguins-like in terms of its ramifications.

From age 11 to 19 for this Calgary native, I was a Flames fan constantly infuriated at Wayne Gretzky. It didn't seem fair.

Over that span, Calgary had Kent Nilsson, Hakan Loob, Joe Mullen, Joe Nieuwendyk. They were all great players. But they were no match for Gretzky. No. 99 was too good and the Flames had no answer for him. Fast forward 30 years and the next generation of Flames fans finds themselves in the exact same predicament with McDavid.


Different But Similar

Comparing McDavid's talent level to Gretzky would be unfair and it's something I won't do. But what I will compare is the way he can single-handedly take over a game because in that regard, I see no difference at this early stage.

Be ready for a lot of broken hearts as this guy is skilled, strong, smart and relentless. He has lightning-quick hands and man, can he ever fly.

Dennis Wideman, Deryk Engelland and even the captain himself Mark Girodano, they all took their turn watching McDavid blow by them. In this case, objects in the mirror are not closer than they appear.

Seriously. It was like watching two English Bulldogs and a Dachshund try to chase down a Greyhound.

Not even close.

Not even fair.

But as an overall team, the Oilers aren't there yet. That also is not even close.

The degree of difficulty for McDavid will only increase. Maybe not Sunday night when the wounded Buffalo Sabres roll into Rogers Place like lambs to a slaughter, but St. Louis, Winnipeg and Washington loom in succession in the not-too-distant future.

Lying ahead will be much stiffer tests, not just for the kid, but more so, for the team's other 19 players. Cherish the 2-0 start if you're an Oilers fan but it is just that, a start.


Misery Down South

As delusional as some Oilers fans are about what being 2-0 really means, an equal percentage of despondent Flames fans are also putting way, way too much stock into these first three days of the regular season.

That's right, it's been three days. Good lord.

The pitchforks are already out for new coach Glen Gulutzan. This despite not having the ability to play his 'A' line-up one time during the pre-season. Injuries to two of his top three centres, the absence until the final tune-up practice of his best player. Meanwhile, everyone is trying to learn all new systems that are reliant on cohesion. Yeah, good luck with that.

When Wednesday night was the first time you actually had your projected forward group altogether -- and at that, Kris Versteeg was still introducing himself around the dressing room -- failure for the team's defensive play to be immediately air-tight is hardly a startling revelation.

It's going to take some time. It was always going to take some time. With the injuries, the absentees due to World Cup, the quirky exhibition schedule. Brad Treliving has referred to this pre-season as "clunky" and that's a good word for it.

Speaking of the Flames GM, there's even been anger in his direction. The clock is ticking on him and his coaching hire tweeted a delirious fan the other day. Hey, everyone's entitled to their opinion, but we're breaking new ground on the level of absurdity with some of the panic-stricken comments I've come across.

Let's just be serious for a moment. Let's just take a couple deep breaths, relax, and recap what has really unfolded so far.


Not as Bad as it Seems

For one, they opened up the season on the road and and lost. Let's attach a little perspective to that.

When it comes to the so-called Battle of Alberta, Flames fans can be a cocky bunch given the missteps of the Oilers the past decade. Going two rounds deep in the playoffs two years ago. Making the playoffs four times over the span of Edmonton's dry spell. It's not juggernaut stuff but Calgary has been the better team, for sure.

But Edmonton is a better team now then they were then. Accept it. McDavid is in year two. They've added Milan Lucic. Added another top five pick to their stable of forward talent in Jesse Puljujarvi. The defence is much better with Larsson's arrival and Klefbom is on his way to being a good one .

To be cocky is fine. As fans, trash talking is part of the joy of sport. It's what you signed up for and you're absolutely entitled to it. But it does take a lot of arrogance to just assume the Flames should have won in Edmonton on Wednesday, then to decry that the sky is falling when they don't. While doing so may taste like a tablespoon of Buckley's, let's give the Oilers just a wee bit of credit here.

Now Friday night back in the cozy confines of the Saddledome, that loss is a legitimate whoops and I'll grant you that. But where does that leave the team? 0-2 instead of 1-1? With 80 games to go? Feels like something the local hockey heroes should be able to recover from.

While it's easy to have sane judgment clouded when you lose twice in a row to the Oilers of all teams -- given their reputation, the Battle of Alberta and all that, but the same positives remain that existed four days ago when the season was about to start.


Season Preview Refresher

The Flames goaltending is better. Really, it is.

You can pump the brakes on the Brian Elliott doom and gloom. He hasn't been great so far, he'll be the first to admit that. But let's not forget that in the past five seasons entering 2016-17, his .925 save percentage was second only to Cory Schneider's .926. That's a more telling sample size than the past three days.

He was actually really sharp early Friday night in that frantically-paced start to the game. But when you have to take off both your trapper and blocker to count up the number of breakaways and odd-man rushes you stared down in a game, it points to a larger issue.

They still have Troy Brouwer, who is making an impact on the ice. This guy will contribute to Calgary's success in many different ways this season and not all of those ways will be visible to the fan watching the games on television. Let's just say there's a reason he was brought in and given an 'A'.

Matthew Tkachuk will continue to make a push to spend the season in Calgary.

I asked Gulutzan post-game last night to assess the penalty kill that gave up two key goals after a night in which it was really good in Edmonton. He dismissed the first goal as a bouncing puck type of play that is going to happen against all teams. Candidly, he called the second goal a mistake.

But mistakes will happen. As I wrote recently when getting into the breadth of change being implemented on the PK, it's going to take a while to learn. But if you watch it closely, the indicators are there that this area should be much improved from last year when it ranked 30th.

For that matter, the power play has also looked really good at times early so there are signs that improvement in that area is also likely.


Final Word

Since entering the NHL in 1980, Calgary has had a lot of really good offensive hockey clubs, especially if you go back to the wide-open hockey of the late 80s. Yet only twice in franchise history have they ever put up 25 shots in a period.

Last night, they peppered Oilers goaltender Cam Talbot with 24 shots in a heavily-slanted first period.

The aggressive forecheck, the pressure, the defence pushing up, forcing the opposition to panic and give away the puck. Friday night's game maybe didn't end well, but there were a lot of positives to take from how it began..

New coach, new assistant coaches, new system, new players -- a ton of personnel turnover from the opening season-roster a year ago. There's going to be some growing pains. There was always going to be that. Sure, it sucks when it's the arch-rival that takes advantage but a stiff dose of perspective is needed here.

Come January and the halfway point in the season when these two sides meet again, expect Calgary to be far more buttoned-down in their system and a far more polished group overall. I'd also expect a different outcome.

While the Oilers are going to surprise a lot of people this year, riding the coattails of arguably the best player in the game already, I wouldn't be surprised if when they do play each other next, it's the Flames that go into those two games with the better season record.
 
As for that allergic overreaction that has left you itchy the past few days, just put a little hydrocortisone cream on it and things will be back to normal in no time. Just don't scratch it.



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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2 comments:

  1. Great article but a wee bit depressing if you saw that cameo of Wayne smiling!! It brings bad memories and if McJesus starts whining I am going to move to Florida.

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  2. This needs to be read out loud for all Flames fans to hear. Simmer down folks. Let's believe in our boys.

    ReplyDelete