The battles have taken on a different meaning this season. The ‘Battle of Alberta’ isn’t a fight for Western Conference supremacy between Calgary and Edmonton; rather, it’s a fight to see which prairie team avoids ending up in the basement. The Flames are 14th and the Oilers are a dead-last 15th in the West.
Not that the ‘Battle of Ontario’ is faring much better. Both Toronto and Ottawa are having big trouble generating any offence, with the Sens 11th and the Leafs 13th in the Eastern Conference as a result.
The good news? Look to the extremes; east to Montreal and west to Vancouver. It appears the Canadiens and Canucks are Canada’s best NHL bets this season, by a long shot.
Here’s a look at how the NHL’s Canadian teams fared last week – and a look ahead to what’s in store on the weekend.
The Week That Was: The Flames have alternated wins and losses for the past nine games and haven’t won back-to-back contests since late October. Last week was no different, with Calgary beating Minnesota, losing to Chicago, beating Tampa Bay and losing to Los Angeles. Rene Bourque(notes) scored the shootout winner in the 3-2 victory over the Wild, and had the game-winner and two assists in the 4-2 win over the Lightning. Jarome Iginla(notes) also scored a goal against the Bolts – and the Blackhawks – and has 10 goals in his past 14 games after scoring just twice in his first 15 contests. Ales Kotalik(notes), who missed the first 26 games of the season due to a knee injury, returned to action against Chicago. Anton Babchuk(notes) also scored against Chicago, for his first goal since being traded by Carolina on Nov. 17. Tom Kostopoulos(notes), also obtained from the ‘Canes, tallied his first as a Flame against Tampa Bay – a game which saw defenceman Corey Sarich score his first of the season, too.
The Weekend That Will Be: The Flames visit the Ducks in Anaheim on Friday night.
The Week That Was:Like last season, the Edmonton Oilers are languishing in last place in the Western Conference. Like last season, the Oilers have lost veteran offensive leaders Shawn Horcoff(notes) (knee) and Ales Hemsky(notes) (groin) to injuries, with the linchpin forwards expected to be sidelined for at least a month. Unlike last season, however, the Oilers are refusing to let bad news get in the way of a good time. Edmonton beat the Blues 2-1 last Saturday for the club’s fourth win in a row and fifth in six games. Taylor Hall(notes), who’s finding his stride as a full-time NHLer, scored the game-winner 23 seconds into overtime for his ninth goal of the season – and sixth in eight games. Nikolai Khabibulin(notes) turned in another stellar performance, making 31 saves against St. Louis. Khabibulin was even better in a losing effort against Anaheim on Tuesday, stopping 30 shots in regulation and overtime. The Oilers goalie saved his best for the shootout: after Anaheim scored on the first shot, the Ducks had nine consecutive chances to win the game – but Khabibulin kept making saves until 19-year-old rookie Cam Fowler(notes) finally roofed one on the 20th attempt of the shootout.
The Weekend That Will Be: The Oilers are in the midst of a six-game home stand, and host Tampa Bay on Friday and divisional rival Vancouver on Sunday.
The Week That Was: Carey Price(notes) and the Canadiens just keep on rolling. The Habs are 4-0-1 in their past five outings, including a pair of Price-abetted victories last week. On Montreal’s 101st birthday last Saturday, Price made 26 saves as the Canadiens dumped San Jose 3-1. And price continued his Vezina-worthy campaign with a 4-1 win over Ottawa on Tuesday, making 27 saves. The Habs are 8-1-1 at home since losing to Ottawa at the Bell centre on Nov. 6. Rookie defenseman P.K. Subban(notes), who made headlines in recent weeks for his alleged “cockiness,” was a healthy scratch for a third straight game against the Sens. But with hard-luck Andrei Markov(notes) on the shelf long-term after knee surgery, the Canadiens are going to need to turn to Subban to provide offense from the back end at some point.
The Weekend That Will Be: Montreal hits the road for back-to-back games, at Detroit on Friday and at Toronto on Saturday.
The Week That Was:It’s getting awfully cold in Ottawa. The Senators have dropped 10 of their past 13 games, including three of four last week, and a woeful lack of offence has been the root cause. Alleged all-star Alexei Kovalev isn’t doing, well, much of anything, so coach Cory Clouston demoted the $5-million man to the fourth line, sparking a blame game between the pair. After a 1-0 shootout loss to Buffalo last Saturday, Chris Kelly(notes) scored his first career hat trick – in his 434th NHL game – to lead the Sens past the Rangers 3-1 on Sunday. When Kelly got the game’s first goal early in the second period, he mercifully ended a stretch of more than 200 minutes in which Ottawa had failed to score. That inability returned in a 4-1 loss to Montreal on Tuesday. Ottawa scored three times against the Rangers on Thursday, but it wasn’t enough in a 5-3 defeat. Enforcer Matt Carkner(notes) also was defeated, in a heavyweight bout by the Rangers’ scary Derek Boogaard(notes), and the Sens tough guy tempted trouble – from the league office – when he appeared to wipe his (bloodied) brow and make a blood-flicking gesture as he skated by the Rangers bench. What is this, the WWF?
The Weekend That Will Be: It’s not exactly best-on-best, but the Senators will stare victory in the face when the Devils visit on Friday night..
The Week That Was: On the strength of a couple of furious rallies, the Leafs went 2-2-0 last week. Toronto beat Boston 3-2 in the shootout on Saturday, thanks to Kris Versteeg’s(notes) game-tying goal with 40 seconds remaining and Phil Kessel(notes) finally scoring against his old team (OK, it was in the shootout, but it’s a start). Kessel has but one assist in eight games against Boston since being traded at the start of last season; he’s also currently goal-less in his past seven games overall. Two nights later, the Leafs trailed mighty Washington 4-1 heading into the third period, but roared back with three unanswered goals and ultimately won 5-4 on Mikhail Grabovski’s(notes) shootout marker. The comebacks were cut short, though, as Toronto handed Pittsburgh and Philadelphia big leads and were unable to rally. Sidney Crosby(notes) scored twice in a 5-2 pens win on Wednesday, and Danny Briere(notes) had a pair in a 4-1 Flyers victory on Thursday. Captain Dion Phaneuf(notes) returned against the Flyers after missing 16 games due to a gash on his leg.
The Weekend That Will Be: The age-old Montreal-Toronto rivalry opens another chapter when the Habs visit the Leafs on Saturday.
The Week That Was:It’s important not to place too much significance on a regular season game in early December. But there’s no denying Vancouver’s 3-0 win over Chicago last Friday was big. “We always get up for games against the Blackhawks,” said Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo(notes), who made 32 saves. “So it’s nice to get the win, especially after our last one.” (That “last one” was a 7-1 drubbing – at home, no less – against Chicago on Nov. 20.) Chicago has eliminated Vancouver in the second round of the playoffs in each of the past two seasons, and the fact Chicago went on to claim the Stanley Cup last spring has only fueled the all-in rivalry. A 3-2 loss on Sunday to visiting St. Louis snapped a four-game winning streak, but the Canucks responded with a 5-4 shootout win over Anaheim on Wednesday. Luongo, who had surrendered five goals on five shootout shots entering the game against the Ducks, stopped all three shooters he faced, while Jeff Tambellini(notes) was the only player to score in the goalie-vs.-shooter showdown. Ryan Kesler(notes) set the stage by scoring the game-tying goal with 22 seconds remaining in the third period.
The Weekend That Will Be: The Canucks host Tampa Bay on Saturday and then travel to Edmonton for a game against the Oilers on Sunday.