Battle of Alberta starting to heat up

Written by ECA Review

It may be irrelevant to a hockey fan in the Greater Toronto area, or to a puckster living in Raleigh, N.C., but to a Western Canadian, the Battle of Alberta is real.

This season in the National Hockey League appears to be no different, as Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers are once again in the hunt in the Pacific Division, with fans dreaming of another post-season playoff battle.

To date, the red-hot Flames are winning the leadup to the battle, a few points ahead of the once-struggling but now back-to-normal Oilers. Edmonton coach Dave Tippett was fired in mid-February after a stretch of poor hockey capped by back-to-back home-ice losses to Vegas and Chicago in which they were outscored 8-1. New coach Jay Woodcroft produced immediate positive results, going 5-0 to start his stint with the Oilers, outscoring their opponents 22-8. Whether the new coach will carry on that success through the rest of the season, or suffer the Bruce Boudreau effect (start fast, then level off) remains to be seen.

The Flames, meanwhile, have been surprisingly good most of the season. Superior goaltending from Jacob Markstrom has been a huge key, with the former Canuck who signed last year as a free agent with Calgary already posting eight shutouts, by far the best total in the league. As a team, the Flames’ winning percentage and goals for-and-against differential are tops in the Pacific Division. Then, to add to that quality, general manager Brad Treliving went out and acquired top-six forward Tyler Toffoli from Montreal for the equivalent of two rolls of tape and a Jann Arden CD.

Toffoli, the long-time L.A. King who has since played for the Canucks and Montreal, is a five-time 20-plus goal man who will add a jolt of offence to a team that’s already in the upper half of scoring in the league, thanks to the play of Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk, Andrew Mangiapane and Elias Lindholm.

While the Flames get set to roll with Toffoli et al, their neighbours to the North are trying to figure out why they aren’t an elite team while employing arguably the two best offensive stars in the league, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Maybe the new coaching staff will change the atmosphere in the Alberta capital.

The Flames are almost assured of a berth in the post-season, while there are no guarantees of playoff action for the Oilers, who must continue to perform as they did in the first few games under the new coaching staff. It just wouldn’t be the traditionally exciting Stanley Cup playoffs without the two Alberta teams battling it out.

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RJ Currie of “At the Waste Management Open, Harry Higgs lifted up his shirt after a two-putt par to get a reaction from the crowd. Which showed us, among other things, that Higgs needs better waist management.”

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By Bruce Penton

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