CALGARY — Alberta was once dubbed Death Valley by NHL teams making the trip to Western Canada.
During their heydays, the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers were killers at home.
These days, you might as well call the province the North Pole — every game against the slumping Flames and Oilers is a gift.
About the only positive to hype Saturday night’s Hockey Day in Canada nightcap is the fact one of these provincial rivals will finally snap a massive losing streak.
Both should be well-rested.
Returning home from shootout losses to the Dallas Stars and Phoenix Coyotes that stretched their slump to nine straight games without a victory, the Flames took Friday off.
Losers of a dozen consecutive contests, the Oilers also decided to skip practice. With teams as cold as these two coming together, at least the ice conditions should be ideal.
And for the first time in a long while, there might even be a peace accord between those wearing red and others sporting blue. Fans in the split crowd traditionally battling with competitive
“Oilers Suck” and “Flames Suck” chants might finally agree on something.
They both suck.
But what’s worse? Being a team — the Oilers — who weren’t expected to do more than maybe challenge for one of the lower playoff seedings anyway, or the one — the Flames — who many predicted would win the division but have seen it slip from their grasp ever since ringing in the new year with a win over the Oilers. Since New Year’s Eve, things have slowly gone downhill for the Flames.
They won two more games before dropping 11 of their next 12. Scoring just 14 times in their last nine games, the Flames have also allowed three or more against in a handful of those tilts — excluding the shootout difference-makers in Phoenix Thursday and against the Colorado Avalanche in the first of the string of losses.
That New Year’s Eve clash started the Oilers’ current streak, although they’d lost seven in a row before that troublesome evening — which featured a well-publicized spat over a restaurant bill in Calgary before they slipped out of town.
Who expected them to sink lower in public perception after that?
When it comes to losing, at least the Oilers have excuses.
Injuries to some big-name players have certainly cost them. Ales Hemsky was knocked out for the year with a shoulder injury at the end of November.
Before returning for loss 12 against the St. Louis Blues Thursday, Mike Comrie was sidelined with mono for two months.
Goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin appeared in just 18 games before opting for back surgery — which might be the lesser pain than actually playing for the Oilers.
Aside from the current absence of Craig Conroy, David Moss and Nigel Dawes, the Flames have had few injuries to blame for their malfunction. The hosts have planned a party Saturday night on the nationally broadcasted battle of the ages.
Paul Brandt will sing the national anthem, and perform during the second intermission during the annual Western Night at the Saddledome.
If the Flames don’t pull on their work boots instead of Cowboy kickers, the chorus you’ll hear at the end of a potential 10th straight loss will be an encore of boos.