Flames vs. Oilers
Alberta, Canada - The Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers share the same Canadian province. But as these rivals embark on a new season Thursday at Rexall Place, their expectations seem to be fairly far apart.
While the Flames look to prove they're among the Western Conference's elite teams after a 7-0 preseason, the Oilers merely hope to rebuild an identity after an NHL-worst 62-point campaign and a drama-filled offseasonOddsmakers from online sports book Sportsbook.com have made the Flames –110 money line favorites for Thursday's game against the Oilers. Current MLB Public Betting Information shows that 61% of more than 678 bets for this game have been placed on the Flames -110.
Former Edmonton coach Pat Quinn was reassigned to an office role in favor of assistant Tom Renney in June. Oilers goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin missed all but 18 games of 2009-10 with a back injury, then pleaded guilty to DUI charges and was ordered into an alcohol-treatment program. Defenseman Sheldon Souray hasn't been allowed back with the team after demanding a trade, and he recently cleared waivers for the second time in three months.
Veteran winger Dustin Penner had a career-high 63 points for the Oilers (27-47-8) last season and will look for offensive help from the returning Ales Hemsky - back after missing five months due to a shoulder injury - and fellow forwards Shawn Horcoff, Sam Gagner and Andrew Cogliano.
The majority of Edmonton's success, however, could be contingent upon the development of rookies Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi and Taylor Hall - the top overall pick in this year's draft. Paajarvi led Edmonton with three goals and four points in three preseason games, while Eberle and Hall each added three points.
"There's a lot more energy (with the rookies). It's very contagious," defenseman Tom Gilbert said. "The (kids) are on the ice every second of every practice and they're pushing you to become a better player."
Unlike their Alberta neighbors to the north, the Flames will rely heavily on veteran talent - namely captain Jarome Iginla, defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, and goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff.
Calgary (40-32-10) disappointed in 2009-10, finishing five points out of a playoff spot after being considered a Stanley Cup contender heading into the season. Mired in a season-high nine-game losing streak in mid-January, Flames general manager Darryl Sutter dealt star defenseman Dion Phaneuf to Toronto and center Olli Jokinen to the New York Rangers in hopes of inspiring a turnaround.
Not much changed. The Flames lost eight of 11 down the stretch to miss the postseason for the first time since 2003.
Along with the offseason acquisition of Alex Tanguay, the Flames re-signed Jokinen in July and inked 35-year-old veteran Brendan Morrison to a one-year deal Monday in hopes of overcoming the injury bug saddling the offense. Daymond Langkow (neck), Matt Stajan (separated shoulder), David Moss (shoulder), Ryan Stone (knee) and Ales Kotalik (knee) are all out indefinitely.
"Initially, it's a great opportunity to step in and prove you can still produce night in and night out and I'm excited about that," said Morrison, who had 12 goals and 30 assists in 74 games for Washington last season. "I anticipate coming in and contributing and when the team gets healthier, it's only going to help the cause and help the depth."
Iginla, meanwhile, enters the season 80 points from reaching 1,000 for his career. He failed to record a point in the final six games last season and didn't have a goal in the last 11, failing to total at least 70 points for the first time in four seasons.
"I took a little longer break (in the offseason) than usual," Iginla said. "I'm ready to go. I'm excited about this season, about a philosophical shift that should make us a quicker, better offensive team."The Flames and Oilers are facing each other for the third consecutive game dating back to Sunday after playing two consecutive preseason contests - both Calgary victories.