Calgary Flames defenceman Nikita Zadorov was excited but also realistic talking about Saturday’s season opener against Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers. Zadorov and Chris Tanev will try to mute one of the league’s best players.
“I haven’t been part of the Battle of Alberta yet,” said Zadorov, a towering defenceman known for his big hits, biting sense of humour and puck bobbles. “But I’m going to enjoy it – hopefully.”
Hopefully. The same way the Calgary Flames are approaching this season with a defence that lost its heart and soul in former captain Mark Giordano. They kept eight defencemen to start the season. Seven of them are set to play tonight with winger Blake Coleman suspended and the team going with 11 forwards.
Calgary Flames morning skate lineup
New combinations leave Tanev/Zadorov as shutdown duo
Tanev and Zadorov will see a lot of McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, but Noah Hanifin and Rasmus Andersson will also get plenty of exposure.
Nearly a week of extra practice before their season opener has allowed the Flames to specifically prepare for the Oilers but the pairings are new, so the additional time was critical for chemistry.
“We had pretty hard skates this week, which is good,” said Tanev. “It’s going to be a fast-paced, crazy environment.”
Zadorov feels good about his partnership. Tanev is responsible, tenacious and possibly an under-rated first pass.
“I think we can be a really good shut-down line, but we can also be a pretty good puck-moving pair,” said Zadorov. “We’re going to spend lots of time playing against the big guys from other teams, so that’s definitely going to be a challenge for us on an every night basis. We’re excited to accept it.”
Hanifin and Andersson will be the two most likely to provide offence from the back end. The team has to hope Oliver Kylington, Jusso Valimaki and Erik Gudbranson to eat up the leftover minutes with mistake-free hockey and a chance to capitalize on their opportunities.
Puck drops at 8 p.m. as the back end of a Hockey Night in Canada doubleheader.
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