Oilers & Flames Pushing Each Other at the Top of the Pacific Division

The 2021-22 NHL Season is closing out its first month and the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames are on pace to go neck and neck, not only for a playoff spot, but possibly first place in the Pacific Division. Based on how last season finished and how the offseason looked, many Oilers fans and media felt the team had improved more than the Flames. Media pundits from around the NHL had the Oilers finishing ahead of the Flames in the 2021-22 season, which could still happen.

Mikko Koskinen , Logan Day, Andrew Mangiapane
Edmonton Oilers goalie Mikko Koskinen and Defenseman Logan Day sandwich Calgary Flames’ Andrew Mangiapane (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh)

A lot of hockey experts and fans also underestimated wily old veteran coach of the Flames, Darryl Sutter. There seems to be some magic left in Sutter’s bag of tricks. He’s pushing the right buttons with a team that vastly underperformed last season and has Jacob Markstrom looking like the goaltender the Flames organization hoped he would be. In fact, it looks like the goaltending tandem of Markstrom and Dan Vladar are instilling a lot more confidence into their fan base than the Oilers goaltending duo of Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen.

It’s early, but with Smith’s recent injury and overall injury history, as well as Koskinen’s shaky performance on home ice against the Flyers in late October, Markstrom is looking like the best pro goalie in the province of Alberta at the moment. Oilers head coach Dave Tippett might need to give third-string goalie Stuart Skinner a game or two to see if he can push Koskinen for the No. 2 job sooner rather than later.

Stuart Skinner Edmonton Oilers
Stuart Skinner, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

You can be sure former goaltender and current Oilers general manager Ken Holland is keeping his eyes open, and his cell phone battery charged. The team can’t let the season get away from them because of questionable goaltending in the first half of the season.

First Place Competition Between the Oilers and Flames is Good for the Game

Novels have been written about the Battle of Alberta. Much has been made about the glory-year Oilers from the 1980s and early ’90s earning five Stanley Cups compared to the Flames’ one Cup during that era. In the mid-2000s, both teams returned to the Stanley Cup Final with magical runs led by players such as Jarome Iginla, Miikka Kiprusoff, Chris Pronger and Ryan Smith.

Chris Pronger Edmonton Oilers
Chris Pronger #44 of the Edmonton Oilers skates the puck from the corner against the Vancouver Canucks during their NHL game at General Motors Place on December 17, 2005 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)

After the Oilers’ decade of darkness and drafting of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, things have been looking up in Oil Country. A lot of Flames fans are quick to point out how bad the Oilers were for over a decade, but the Flames haven’t exactly taken the league by storm during that time either. However, this season is shaping up better for both teams. The Oilers have looked great right out of the gate. The Flames, led by Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk and Andrew Mangiapane, are also showing promise.

Can the Oilers and Flames Stay on Top of the Pacific Division All Season?

It would be great for the cities of Edmonton and Calgary and their fans if both the Oilers and Flames fight it out at the top of the standings all season long.

Related: Flames & Oilers Battle of Alberta Could Be Most Intense in Decades

There’s still a lot of hockey to be played, and fans have to believe that the Vegas Golden Knights will have something to say about who finishes first in the Pacific. The San Jose Sharks and Vancouver Canucks could also go on some winning streaks and move up in the standings. But as the calendar turns to November, the Oilers and Flames are fighting it out at the top just like they did years ago, and many people are circling Dec. 27 on their calendars as that’s the next time the two teams will meet. If you’re a fan of intense playoff hockey, you have to hope that both teams meet each other in the postseason. That would be great for the game, for the two franchises, and for fans of the Oilers and Flames.

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