The waiting is the hardest part for the Calgary Flames.
When the Flames kick off the season on Saturday with a road clash against the Edmonton Oilers, they’ll be the last team in the league to drop the puck. By the time the first goal is scored or check is thrown in the latest edition of the Battle of Alberta, a handful of clubs around the league — among them the defending Stanley Cup-champion Tampa Bay Lightning, Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs — will already have three games in the books.
“Every day it gets a little bit harder to sleep,” forward Dillon Dube said of the wait to play. “But we’ll be good. The guys are going to come out flying with that anticipation. It’s a new season. It’s what we’ve been waiting for, for a long time, to prove that we’re a good hockey team.”
The Flames have plenty to prove in that regard after their disappointing 2020-21 campaign. The team’s inconsistency not only kept the Flames from advancing to the playoffs, but resulted in a mid-season coaching change that brought Darryl Sutter back behind the bench.
Another disappointing season likely would mean bigger changes, especially with the likes of Johnny Gaudreau a pending unrestricted free agent and Matthew Tkachuk a pending restricted free agent.
“We’ve just got to bear down and realize how important those first 10 games are to get off to a good start and make sure you’re feeling good,” Gaudreau said of the mindset heading into the season. “In the past we haven’t done that. It would be great for our team to finally do that and get a good start instead of trying to catch up.”
The Oilers opened the season with a 3-2 shootout victory over the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday and are bracing for Calgary’s first-game energy.
“They played just about their whole lineup the last exhibition game here and they’re going to come in and play a hard, forechecking game the way Darryl likes,” Oilers coach Dave Tippett said. “It’s not as if we’re unfamiliar with who they are. It’ll be same as usual.”
With the intensity usually seen when the Flames and Oilers meet, Edmonton will receive a physical boost with forward Zack Kassian expected to suit up for the first time since suffering a concussion in the preseason. Kassian fell to the ice during a fight and was knocked unconscious after hitting his head. Forward Colton Sceviour is likely to come out of the lineup.
“I feel good,” Kassian said. “I came to pretty quickly after the incident, and the concussion protocol was in place the last week. I’ve done multiple tests to make sure I’m good to go and everything’s come back positive.”
Kassian’s addition certainly adds grit to the talent-laden Oilers.
“We’ve had our battles over the years and when you throw fans into the mix, it’s going to be a fun night, not only for us players but for everybody in Alberta. It’s going to be an exciting night,” Kassian said.
The Oilers also expect depth defenseman Slater Koekkoek to skate on the third pairing in place of Kris Russell.
–Field Level Media