The first playoff Battle of Alberta game in over 30 years didn’t disappoint as the teams combined for 15 goals and the Calgary Flames took Game 1 by a score of 9-6 over the Edmonton Oilers. There were ups and downs for both teams and it was a real throwback to the last time these teams matched up in the postseason.
As the series is only getting started, there are some things we learned from just the first game that looks at trends, surprises, and what was and can be expected for the remaining games.
Oilers & Flames Had No Trouble With Offence
“It’s a game full of game-breakers”, the broadcasters pointed out. I thought that was the perfect way to describe the first game of the Battle of Alberta, as there are four 100-plus point scorers in the series and two on each team.
Connor McDavid led the NHL in points with 123 and won his fourth Art Ross Trophy in just his seventh season. Johnny Gaudreau wrapped up the regular season tied for second in points with 115, third in assists with 75, and led the league in plus/minus. It was Gaudreau’s first time reaching 100 points along with his teammate Matthew Tkachuk. The second member of the Flames’ top line finished eighth in the NHL in points with 104 while each member of the top line scored over 40 goals and was ranked in the top three in plus/minus in the league. Leon Draisaitl of the Oilers is the fourth member of the 100-point club in the series. He finished fourth in points with 110, second in goals with 55, and the former Art Ross winner reached the century mark for the third time in his career.
McDavid was already the early Conn Smythe favourite before putting up a four-point performance in the first game of Round 2. He has recorded seven multi-point games thus far in only eight playoff games and has recorded 12 points in the last four games. He takes over games and is showing it with 18 points and a six-point lead on Draisaitl who ranks second in playoff scoring.
The Oilers got five of their six goals from their top-six forwards with the sixth goal coming off a pass by McDavid to Evan Bouchard. The Flames got four goals and eight points from their top line alone and 12 different players recorded a point in the win. This game had shades of the 9-5 win the Flames had over the Oilers in their last regular-season matchup except this time, the Oilers scored all of their goals at even strength and the Flames’ top line didn’t have an overwhelming performance at 5-on-5. Along with producing a lot of offence, they were also on the ice for goals and were a combined plus-four which included the empty-net goal by Tkachuk.
We didn’t know what to expect between the goaltenders playing at an elite level leading up to this series and the star power on each team. After Game 1, we have a more clear picture of what has taken hold.
Highly Praised Goaltending and Defence Didn’t Show Up to Play
Throughout the regular season and after Round 1, the Flames were praised for their ability to shut teams down and play solid defensively with a Vezina-calibre goaltender backing them up. The Oilers got much better goaltending and had transformed their defensive style of play under head coach Jay Woodcroft resulting in stellar performances by Mike Smith and even Mikko Koskinen down the stretch and into the first round.
That all went out the window in Game 1, as there was no feeling-out process between the two teams as they scored a combined 15 goals. Jacob Markstrom had a .943 save percentage (SV%) in Round 1 which ranked second among all goaltenders to his first-round opponent Jake Oettinger. Smith was right behind Markstrom with a .938 SV% behind a weaker defensive team in the Oilers (from “Oilers goaltender Mike Smith goes from jeers to cheers with playoff performance”, Edmonton Sun, 5/15/22). They combined for three shutouts in the first round, but both teams seemed to be running around with a lot less structure than they normally do. It may have been the emotions running high or just bad games by each goaltender. Whatever it is, both teams need to tighten it up for Game 2 and the rest of the series.
Bad habits and horrible coverage by the Oilers crept back in as they allowed Calgary to get eight inner slot shots in the first period alone. This resulted in two goals-against in the first 51 seconds of the game.
Smith was pulled after three weaker goals allowed on nine shots and Markstrom stayed in to allow six goals against. All the goals scored on him were either glove side low or just a low shot. Smith didn’t stay in the game long enough for the Flames to identify a clear weakness as the Oilers’ defence broke down, but the Oilers were able to identify what could work moving forward against Markstrom. He also allowed five goals on the first 17 shots as the Oilers kept the score a lot closer than it should’ve been with the mismatch of shots.
Battle of Alberta Was as Advertised Physically
There wasn’t an overwhelming amount of hits and physicality as everyone expected, since goals took precedence over everything else. The Oilers edged the Flames 23-22 in hits but there were some big hits thrown. Milan Lucic made his presence known by running around like a wrecking ball and even laying out McDavid which caused one of many scrums.
Evander Kane was in almost every scuffle after the whistle and took Tkachuk to the box with him on one of the plays. He also went after Lucic in another play. The teams and players already don’t like each other, so the more they play tough games against each other, the more physical and dirty the series will become. There wasn’t a fight in Game 1, but the groundwork was set for many possibilities.
Zack Kassian has to make himself more known, as Kane was doing most of the heavy lifting in getting under the Flames’ skin. Kane is a skilled player and is counted on for goals and points, while Kassian’s role is to mix things up. He was solid in the first series and made numerous big and impactful hits. He was almost invisible in Game 1, minus a penalty he took after an Oiler goal. Look for the hits to double, pushing and shoving after almost every whistle, and many fights in the games ahead.
Related: Oilers: Which Version of the Flames Will They Face?
The Flames and Oilers play Game 2 on May 20 in Calgary for the second game in a row before heading North to Edmonton for the next two. No team is in trouble in a series until they lose at home, but the way these teams play each other it should be close all the way until the end.