SUN Hockey Pool

Fanning the Flames

Edmonton Oilers forward Raffi Torres skates during practice at Rexall Place in Edmonton on Tuesday...

Edmonton Oilers forward Raffi Torres skates during practice at Rexall Place in Edmonton on Tuesday afternoon. The Oilers are preparing to face the Calgary Flames in their season opener. (Edmonton Sun/Jason Franson)

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 11:14 AM ET

At first, this is going to read like bulletin board material for the Calgary Flames.

The Edmonton Oilers can't wait to play the Flames. They're damn near drooling with the concept of starting the season back-to-back against Calgary.

"I love the idea of starting off against them," said Jarret Stoll.

But it's not quite like it sounds.

It's not that they think they're a lock to beat the Flames so much, as a good bet to finally compete against Calgary. And it's more that they can't wait to find out if they can be as good as they think they can be. And what better way to find out than a home-and-home Battle of Alberta beginning.

"We think it's great. It's a great test for us," said Shawn Horcoff of their banner-raising lid-lifter here tomorrow and the rematch in the cowtown Saturday night.

"They're going to be a real measuring stick for us," said Ryan Smyth.

"We recognize them and a couple other teams as the top teams in our conference. It's really a good way to get into the season," said Ethan Moreau.

STARTING WELL

"We think it's a good thing to be starting off against them because we want to pick right up where we left off last year. We think it's good to get right into the fire. We've still got a fire burning in us since last year," said Stoll.

"Ask me Saturday night," laughed coach Craig MacTavish.

These Oilers, who went to Game 7 of a Stanley Cup final just as the Flames did in the previous hockey season, are starting this season telling themselves they're going for the division title and home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 1991.

Two of the biggest challenges when it comes to that are Calgary and winning at home.

The biggest blemish on MacTavish's coaching record was Darryl Sutter's 12-2-4 record coaching against him.

"We don't have a great record against them," said MacTavish.

"We think this year we have a heck of an opportunity to get a few more points there.

"It's no secret that both teams measure their success largely against one another. Edmonton and Calgary is a unique combination. Kudos to Calgary for giving us some motivation by going to the final. Both teams have made each other better over a long period of time.

"And I think there's motivation for both of us this year to make Highway 2 a tough road against everybody like it used to be in the '80s."

Those were the days when Alberta used to be known as 'Death Valley' in the NHL, where few managed one win in back-to-back trips to Edmonton and Calgary.

"We assess them as being as good a team as there is in the division and as good a team as there is in the conference. We think this year, clearly, our success is through Calgary and their success is through Edmonton," said MacTavish.

GOTTA BEAT KIPPER

To beat Calgary, you have to beat Miikka Kiprusoff. And with the Oilers looking like a team with possibly more offence than since Gretzky & the gang, there's a game within the game right from the git-go.

"He's somebody who makes them look good," said Stoll of Kiprusoff.

"He's a great goaltender. He's stolen games. But he's no different than the great goaltenders we went against in the playoffs. We've got to get to him like we did to them. We've got to get to him early."

The Oilers felt the Flames made themselves a better team by going to Game 7 of the final and the Oilers believe they're now able to match that.

"In close games, in tight games - and a lot of games against Calgary were like that last year - we learned how to win in the playoffs," said Horcoff.

"We also learned a lot about the value of home ice in the playoffs."


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