Whether it delivers a “classic” remains to be seen, but when the Edmonton Oilers host to the Calgary Flames for Sunday’s outdoor game, an important fact is ensured: One team will drum up a victory.
When the NHL decided the provincial rivals would square off for an outdoor game, the Heritage Classic, expectations were the teams would be on track for playoff berths. Instead, as the Oilers and Flames prepare to take the ice, they are both on four-game skids and sitting 30th (Calgary) and 31st (Edmonton) in the overall standings.
Both teams are desperately hoping a Battle of Alberta victory will be the catalyst in changing their fortunes, which has put the festivities aspect of the game somewhat on the back burner.
“As a coach, you look at that as two points that are on the table,” Edmonton bench boss Jay Woodcroft said. “And right now, we’re in search of two points. Not one point, not zero points — two points. …
“Our hope is that maybe that is something that jump-starts us, that gets us all on the same page here in working together to try and find those two points.”
Whether Edmonton superstar center Connor McDavid plays remains to be seen. The team captain suffered an upper-body injury last Saturday but has been skating since Thursday.
Regardless of McDavid’s status, the Oilers know they must pull out of their free fall.
“The outdoor game is a spectacle, but our focus is to win the hockey game,” center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins said. “That’s the only thing that matters to us.”
The players from both teams do plan to enjoy the experience, such as outdoor family skates. Of importance is finding the blend of relishing the extra elements while dialing in on the clash.
“Sometimes distractions like this aren’t the best thing because they take away from what we should have done (last game), but this is a pretty special event for these guys to be a part of,” Flames coach Ryan Huska said. “I remember the one in Regina that I was a part of, and it was one of the coolest things that I was around.”
With that in mind, the Flames are going with the mindset of enjoying the event’s uniqueness with the hopes it puts out of mind the recent disappointments.
“We have a great opportunity to just forget about the past and just really enjoy this weekend here,” captain Mikael Backlund said. “It’s going to be a very special game, and we have a great chance here to really enjoy it, play really well and, hopefully, get that win.”
The Flames and Oilers do have one major difference in their situation. Even though both suffered shutout losses in their last game, the Oilers are struggling due to their inability to defend. The Flames have been hindered by a lack of offensive touch, with the fact they’ve managed only four goals in their last four outings. Now is the opportunity to change the narrative.
“It’s not a normal game, it’s a fun experience,” Flames goaltender Jacob Markstrom said. “We need to take everything we can to get the ‘W’ and take it all in, enjoy it and play to our ability. There’s no better way to do it than in front of a big crowd and against Edmonton.”