SUN Hockey Pool

5 Subplots to Flames' three games this week

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:01 AM ET

The hand-wringing has begun in Calgary.

It’s to be expected when the Flames start with just one win in their first four games.

It could be worse, not everybody is saying, “Wait ’til next year.” At least, not yet.

The Flames begin a six-game homestand Tuesday, when the Edmonton Oilers come calling. It’s a golden chance to right the bad start

Here are things to consider about the opposition arriving this week to the Saddledome.

1. The Nuge is loose

So is there still debate whether the Oilers will send 2011 first-overall draft choice Ryan Nugent-Hopkins back to junior?

As much as Flames head coach Brent Sutter would dearly love to have Nugent-Hopkins skating for his WHL Red Deer Rebels, the hat-trick performance against the Vancouver Canucks Saturday night, in just his third NHL game, was an incredibly strong casemaker by the 18-year-old to remain in the show.

Chew on this: The Oilers have five goals in their first three games, and Nugent-Hopkins has four of them.

Even scarier is the fact Nugent-Hopkins is supposed to be a better set-up man than a trigger-man, and linemate Taylor Hall will now gain a little more space.

2. Battle of Alberta back

Let’s face it, for the past seven seasons, the Battle of Alberta has been a dud.

The Flames have racked up a 32-12-4 record against the Edmonton Oilers since the start of the 2003-04 NHL season, claimed five of the six games last year and won 12 of the last 13 clashes.

With all the young talent the Oilers possess, the worm will turn, if not this year, then soon. The Nugent-Hopkins and Hall combination is just one which seems destined to strike fear into goalies for years to come.

The Oilers have a plethora of young guns in Magnus Paajarvi, Linus Omark, Anton Lander and Jordan Eberle — remember him, the guy who burst on the scene with that incredible goal against the Flames in last year’s season-opener?

Sure, the Oilers will likely have issues among their defence corps and questions in goal, but they may be able to win enough games with a run-and-gun game.

3. Say hello, Tim Erixon

It’s a tradition these days to boo former players when they return. We’ve seen it time and again in the Saddledome. New York Rangers defenceman Tim Erixon may be the first player disliked by Calgary’s faithful without having actually played for the team.

Erixon, the 2009 first-round draft choice, refused to sign with the Flames, and, instead of losing him for just a compensatory draft choice, the club traded the blueliner to the Rangers for a couple of second-round picks and rookie Roman Horak.

The word from Erixon’s camp claimed a lack of belief he’d have an opportunity to play in Calgary, but a prevailing theory is he simply didn’t want to play in the Stampede City and forced a deal to the city where his father played.

Either way, you know the Sea of Red will voice its displeasure.

4. Richie Rich in YYC

It would have been a surprise had Brad Richards not signed with the Rangers as an unrestricted free agent, but the Flames did take their shot July 1.

Flames GM Jay Feaster cleared up salary cap space and made a serious pitch to the player with whom he won a Stanley Cup years ago with a team in Tampa Bay. (We’ll spare reminding Flames fans of the details.)

Instead of inking with the Flames, which reportedly offered Richards a nine-year worth US$65 million, he opted for the Rangers’ nine-year pact worth $58.5 million.

Will Flames fans remind Richards? We’ll see.

It’ll also be a rare chance for Calgary fans to see one of the best goalies in Henrik Lundqvist and former Flames energy player Brandon Prust, who’s evolved into a much bigger role with the Rangers than given here.

5. Preds aren’t prey

Mike Fisher hasn’t played yet due to shoulder issues. Martin Erat has missed the last three games due to injury, and Patric Hornqvist is struggling to the point he’s on the fourth line.

Of course, the Nashville Predators have started with a 2-1-1 record. Every year, the Preds have to figure out a way to do without a key player from the season before, yet every year they’re in the hunt for the playoffs.

The Flames do have a major positive to consider when facing the team from Nashville. The Preds were the only Western Conference club that made the playoffs that the Flames had success against. It’s true, the Flames won all four meetings.


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