Connect with us

Battle of Alberta

The Battle of Alberta: Two Teams Fighting Their Way Out of the Noise and Into Contention



Calgary Flames

It’s fair to say things are improving for Calgary and Edmonton since the last Battle of Alberta. 

The two teams sat in 30th and 31st place in the standings with a single game left in October and just three combined wins over 15 games. With the month closing out and the outside noise drawing to unbearable levels, the Flames and Oilers looked to their Oct. 29 Heritage Classic meeting as a possible opportunity to turn the page.  

A sloppy three periods of awkward transition play and broken sequences ensued. Edmonton took the game 5-2 off a one-goal, two-assist performance from Evander Kane and a .923 outing from Stuart Skinner. Edmonton’s win moved them past Calgary in the standings to seize 30th place in the NHL. 

Little did either group know of the changes on the horizon.  


The Oilers weren’t entirely done losing after the Heritage Classic. The team went 1-4-0, including a highly publicized loss to the last-place San Jose Sharks on Nov. 9 before the team took dire actions.

Head Coach Jay Woodcroft and Assistant Coach Dave Manson were relieved of their duties on Nov 12, 2023. A new voice to lead the room in Kris Knoblauch, a bit of time for Connor Mcdavid’s upper body injury to heal, and the eventual recovery of Matthias Ekholm’s hip issues resulted in Edmonton finding their way back into a form that saw the team go 17-2-1 (.875 winning percentage) following last season’s March 3 NHL Trade Deadline.  

Since Knoblauch’s hiring, the Oilers have put up the second-best points percentage in the NHL at .786 and a 22-6-0 record. Coming into Saturday’s game, the team is currently on a 12-game winning streak. Edmonton holds four games (41) in hand and one point (51) on LA, the team they pushed out of a divisional playoff spot and into the Wildcard race directly above Calgary in the standings.  

If Saturday’s game were to be an allegory for the story of David and Goliath, you can make a safe guess on who would play the titular giant. 

Calgary made some changes of their own following their loss to their archrival on Oct. 29th. 


The next game after the Heritage Classic was against the Dallas Stars on Nov. 2. The evening featured the rookie debut of 2020 24th overall pick Connor Zary. The Saskatoon Sniper made a statement in game one of his career with a goal on his first shot.  

The Flames lost the game 4-3 but undeniably had found something to cheer for. 

Two nights later, Martin Pospisil made his own rookie debut and scored his own first NHL goal en route to a 6-3 win over the Seattle Kraken.  

And so was born the ZKP line of Connor Zary, Nazem Kadri, and Martin Pospisil. Kadri went from a goal, an assist, and a -11 even strength goal differential in nine October games to 15 goals, 20 assists, and 35 points in 36 games since Zary’s introduction to the league. His plus-minus at 5v5 is a much more appealing +13 over that span. 

The Flames put up a 6th-place 8-4-2 record through November and hiked their overall total to 10-10-5. What should have been a demoralizing loss on the national stage ended up standing as the final hour of darkness before the dawn of a modern era youth movement.  

The flip of the calendar once again brought unexpected adversity. Stumbling into the final month of 2023, the Flames were 2-4-2 by Dec. 17. Markstrom was out of the lineup with a broken finger suffered while making a phenomenal save during practice, the team was adjusting to life without Nikita Zadorov, and trade rumours haunted the dressing room’s pending UFAs. 

The Return of Jacob

Then came the return of Jacob Markstrom. Grade A, top tier, Jacob Markstrom.  

Taking the concept of the Comeback Flames to new levels of meta, the Flames again started making up for lost time in the second half of December. Ryan Huska’s crew ended the month 5-6-2 and red-hot heading into the new year.  

Finally meeting their potential on the ice, the Flames have a respectable 6-3-0 record 20 days into January. Calgary sits atop the teams on the outside looking in and three points behind (47) LA, having played three more games.  

It would only make poetic sense that a twist was coming just days before the Flames’ second biggest matchup of the 2023-2024 season.  

Adversity in Cowtown


The Goaltender

The Flames organization announced on Tuesday that number one goaltender Jacob Markstrom, who had a save percentage of .941 and a goals against average of 2.02 in five January games, would drop out of the lineup on a day-to-day basis due to a lower body injury. His status has now been confirmed for Saturday’s Battle of Alberta: Markstrom will remain out of the lineup. Blue chip goaltending prospect Dustin Wolf was called up earlier in the week to back up Daniel Vladar over this stretch.  

Markstrom Sprawling

The Spark

Adding fuel to the fire, Martin Pospisil was the victim of an unfortunate sequence on Thursday night when the fiesty Slovak collided skates with Leafs star scorer Auston Matthews in the Flames defensive zone. 

The Flames, who have been 19-12-4 since Pospisil’s arrival, will have to find a way without his hard line transition play and under-the-radar antics. 

Of further concern is that the Flames’ current third pairing is having issues defending against top talent.

The Blue Line

Jordan Oesterle and Nick DeSimone were beaten with ease down the ice by Auston Matthew late in the first period of Thursday’s 4-3 loss to the Leafs.

Nick DeSimone was later overpowered in front of his own net for Matthews’ third goal of the night late in the second period.  

With Dennis Gilbert currently missing time with a concussion suffered near the conclusion of a 6-3 victory over the Nashville Predators on Jan. 4, and future star Jeremie Poirier out indefinitely after getting surgery following a Vasily Podkolzin skate laceration, blue line depth is beginning to become an issue for the Calgary Flames.  

Hot Streaks 



Both Battle of Alberta combatants have players running hot heading into what should be Saturday’s most electric sixty minutes of hockey.  

Leon Draisatl leads the way for the Oilers with eight points (four goals and four assists) in his last five games. Connor McDavid has been no slouch in the scoring department, with three goals and two assists since Jan. 9. Warren Foegele hit an unexpected offensive tear with two goals and two assists over that span.  


Blake Coleman has been Calgary’s hottest Flame in their last five outings. The Texas Tiger has eight points (five goals and three assists) since Jan. 9. Yegor Sharangovich leads the team with seven goals and Elias Lindholm leads the assist column with five assists since that date.  

You would expect an Oilers team amid a 12-game winning streak to be producing more offence than the Flames of late, but Calgary currently has seven players scoring at a point per game or higher in their last five games – Blake Coleman, Yegor Sharangovich, Nazem Kadri, Mikael Backlund, Noah Hanifin, Elias Lindholm, and Jonathan Huberdeau. Edmonton has only McDavid and Draisatl producing above 1pt/GP since Jan. 9. 

In Net

Daniel Vladar has put up solid work since taking the interim #1 spot – .920 against Arizona on Tuesday and .879 against Toronto on Thursday in a game that featured a bevy of high quality saves.  

Stuart Skinner, meanwhile, has been a force for Edmonton in January, allowing only nine goals in six appearances. His save percentage is a sparkling .947, and his goals against average is 1.50 on the month.  



Star Power 

It would be negligent to leave out how hard the Oilers stars show up for games against the Calgary Flames. Leon Draisatl has six goals and 32 assists in 22 games against Calgary since 19-20. McDavid trails only a bit with 18 goals and 18 assists in as many games. Ryan Huska’s zone defence will have their hands full shutting down Edmonton’s elite talent.  

You Only Get One 

6-foot-8, 235-pound Adam Klapka has waited with bated breath for his first NHL appearance since being called up from the AHL Wranglers on Thursday. The Prague, Czechia product sits fifth in scoring on the Wranglers at the time of his call up with 10 goals and 11 assists in 33 games. Klapka has nearly reached last season’s point total (13 goals, 12 assists, 25 points in 60 GP) in half as many games with 10 goals, 11 assists, and 21 points in 33 games. 

This season’s Flames group has taken major strides upon each introduction of their rookie forwards. If Klapka takes his rookie lap on Saturday night – expect the Battle of Alberta to get more dramatic.


Calgary’s 13th overall pick at the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, Matthew Coronato, was recalled on Saturday morning and will fill in for Martin Pospisil on a line with Nazem Kadri and Connor Zary. A natural triggerman, Coronato’s big shot may find chemistry with Zary and Kadri’s strong passing game tonight.

The product of Huntington, New York, has 12 goals and 17 assists for 29 points in 27 AHL games this season. The 21-year-old played through October with the Flames as well as a one-game call-up in December against the New Jersey Devils. The 5-foot-10 sniper has a goal and an assist in 11 NHL games in 2023-2024.

Calgary Flames Projected Lineup










Edmonton Oilers Projected Lineup

RNH – McDavid – Hyman

Kane – Draisaitl – Foegele

Janmark – McLeod – Ryan

Gagner – Holloway – Brown

Nurse – Ceci

Ekholm – Bouchard

Kulak – Desharnais


Keep Your Head Up

There are reasons why this Battle of Alberta could be a dull affair.  

The Flames may be missing their top goaltender and a key sparkplug. They say that teams play their worst nearing the end of a winning streak – its possible that the Oilers are simply ramping down. Calgary will have played the second most games (9) among all NHL teams through the month of January by the morning of the 20th.  

Does anyone believe that, though? The central theme of NHL hockey in Alberta during the 2023-2024 season has been keep your head up. Blink, and you’ll miss something important. Chances are solid that the Battle of Alberta on Jan. 20 will feature at least a couple of dramatic twists that no one saw coming.