Monday, January 15, 2018

Weekend wrap: You can't touch a flame when it's red hot

It’s been a rough season for the two Alberta teams. The Oilers are responsible for most of that, as we may have mentioned once or twice. But while they haven’t been a disaster on anywhere near the same level, the Flames have at least been a disappointment, the kind of underachieving team that can give a coach fits. Literally.

So when an opportunity presents itself to go a few paragraphs saying almost entirely positive things about these two teams, let’s jump on it. The weekend was a very good one for the province, with each picking up a pair of road wins as they head into their bye-week break.

For Calgary, the wins continued a recent streak that now stands at seven games. The weekend visits to Florida and Carolina spelled the end of a four-game road trip, and make the Flames the hottest team in the league right now. At this point the Flames would probably rather skip their mandated bye and just keep playing, but since that’s not an option, they’ll have to settle for at least temporarily passing the Kings for second place in the Pacific. That’s probably going to be temporary – the Kings have two games in hand – but it’s still a pretty stunning achievement given the Flames were 11 points back of L.A. on Jan. 4.

It’s too early to start worrying about playoff scenarios, so we’ll just say this: With the Kings fading, the Knights still at least somewhat of a question mark and the rest of the division looking underwhelming, the Pacific is looking very winnable right now if a team wanted to hit the gas in the second half. Right now, the Flames are that team.

The Oilers haven’t been quite as hot, and they’re still well out of the playoff race. But if the season ends up being the write-off it looks like it will be, this weekend may stand out as the high point. The Oilers went into their bye week on a high note, earning road wins in Arizona and Las Vegas to string together their first win streak since they briefly showed signs of a turnaround before Christmas.

The weekend didn’t start off well, with the Coyotes scoring twice in the game’s first few minutes to chase Cam Talbot and take an early 2–0 lead on Friday. But Al Montoya closed the door the rest of the way and Edmonton fought back to earn a 4–2 win, with Darnell Nurse getting the winner in the third period. The Saturday-night game was even more fun, as the Oilers seemed to figure out a counter to the growing legend of the Golden Knights’ home-ice advantage: Just have your fans show up and take over the whole building.

The invasion served as a celebration of Connor McDavid’s 21st birthday, one that even included a first-period serenade. And the fans were rewarded with a third-period comeback capped off by an overtime win, with Nurse playing the hero once again.

It’s not all good news. The Oilers lost Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to injury and came within inches of losing Milan Lucic, too. Meanwhile, the Flames were missing Sean Monahan for the first time all season, and captain Mark Giordano was ejected from last night’s win and could face further discipline for this hit on Sebastian Aho. But for two teams that have already handled their share of negativity, we’ll skip over that and let Alberta’s fans enjoy a productive weekend, and a quick break to gear up for whatever comes next.

Road to the Cup

The five teams that look like they’re headed towards Stanley Cup–favourite status.

5. Winnipeg Jets (26-13-7, +26 true goals differential*): They head into the break with two straight losses, but still hold first place in the Central.

4. Washington Capitals (28-14-3, +11): A Jay Beagle buzzer beater in Carolina sent them into their bye on a winning note.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

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