One week to the NHL trade deadline.
One week for the Calgary Flames to prove to GM Jay Feaster whether he should try and buy or put a ‘for sale’ sign on a few players.
After garnering three of four points during their two-game trek to Dallas and Los Angeles and running their record to 5-0-3 in the past eight games, the Flames return home this week to play four straight home games, starting with Tuesday night’s Battle of Alberta clash with the Edmonton Oilers.
This is a big opportunity to take a stronger hold on the playoff spot they grabbed by vaulting over the L.A. Kings into eighth spot in the Western Conference standings.
Despite an obscene run of injuries to the forward ranks, the Flames have managed to hold their own to this point. The onus will fall on the supporting cast to keep contributing as we gear up for the final quarter of the NHL season.
1. Slicker than Oil
Battle of Alberta? What battle? The meetings between the Flames and the rival Edmonton Oilers have been incredibly one-sided. As in, they weren’t this uneven in the mid-80s when the Oil had that Wayne Gretzky-led dynasty.
The Flames have not only won all four games this season but have cobbled together a nine-game winning streak versus the Oilers. If that’s not enough, the Flames have claimed 16 of the last 17 meetings and lost only two games dating back to the 2008 New Year’s Eve tilt.
Eventually, the rebuilding, young-and-talented Oilers will turn the tide — and maybe even go on a similar run against the Flames — but this game will mean so much more to the Flames than to the Oilers, who appear destined to receive another lottery draft choice.
2. Gags goin’ great guns
You knew Edmonton Oilers centre Sam Gagner would slow down from that crazy spell at the start of the month — eight goals and 15 points in a five-game span. He went into Sunday’s clash with the Vancouver Canucks with one point in three outings.
Still, when a player goes on a roll like that, he gains a new level of confidence in his ability and is more and more capable of going on another scoring spree.
As much as the Oilers are struggling to return to being a playoff team, the certainly have no shortage of talent. Gagner is just one piece of the puzzle, which also includes such up-and-comers as Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and rookie Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
The Oilers must improve defensively, but they sure can put pucks in the net.
3. JunkyaRd Dogs
Despite the never-ending rumours of moving from Arizona, the salary-cap restraints which have been involved in being owned by the NHL while Gary Bettman searches — seemingly in vain — to find a group willing to lose its own money to keep the team in Scottsdale, the Phoenix Coyotes keep in the playoff hunt and been one of the league’s hottest teams with an 8-1-1 mark in their last 10 games.
The Flames and the Desert Dogs have three more meetings this season and are currently running neck-and-neck, so Thursday’s clash at the Dome should have a solid level of intensity.
4. Big flyers landing
Is this the year the Philadelphia Flyers finally hoist the Stanley Cup? There are all kinds of reasons to expect the Flyers to be in the mix, with all their scoring depth and a good blueline corps — although they severely miss the injured Chris Pronger. But yet again, the goaltending is a question mark, despite the monster contract given to Ilya Bryzgalov (US$51 million over nine years) last summer.
The Flyers will be hard-pressed to catch the New York Rangers for top spot in the Atlantic Division but will be an Eastern Conference favourite, so Saturday’s clash will be a good chance for Flames fans to see that potential for themselves.
5. Flying attack
Guess which is the highest scoring team in the NHL. Detroit? No. Vancouver? No. It’s not Boston, Chicago nor Pittsburgh, either. It’s the Flyers.
Sure, the Flyers are big and strong, as usual, both on the wings and on the blueline, but they also boast all kinds of offensive forces.
Claude Giroux is a rising star, and one of three Flyers already with 20 goals, along with Scott Hartnell and Wayne Simmonds.
The depth goes on, too, with a few talented young rookies in Sean Couturier and Matt Read and veterans Danny Briere, Jakub Voracek and Maxime Talbot.
Oh yeah … this may very well be the last time Flames fans get a first-hand chance to see Jaromir Jagr play, too.
On Twitter: @SUNRandySportak