The 2022-23 edition of the Battle of Alberta will draw to a close Tuesday.
The Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames will wrap up the series before the flip of the calendar year. And after just three games, too.
“It is a little bit weird,” Oilers defenceman Darnell Nurse admitted early Tuesday morning. “You go from the COVID year and we played, what, 10 games, and you’re used to playing them at least four. It’s your rival, your biggest rival. You always get up for the games. It’s great for the fans. So it is weird we play three and that they’re done so early.
“But that’s someone else’s job.”
“Should be a fun one."
Nazem Kadri looks ahead to tonight's match-up vs. the Oilers. pic.twitter.com/gxDRNwo1jM
— Calgary Flames (@NHLFlames) December 27, 2022
Indeed it is.
The NHL schedule makers design the 82-game slate for each of the 32 NHL clubs.
On top of that is the fact that teams will rotate between three- and four-game sets between teams in their own division.
It just so happens that this year — just months after the first Stanley Cup Playoffs edition of the Battle of Alberta — sees Edmonton and Calgary meet on just three occasions.
“It’s definitely odd that we don’t play these guys after tonight,” Flames forward Milan Lucic said. “That’s just how the schedule happens. What is it, every couple years you only play a divisional team three times so that just happens to be this year against the Oilers. That’s just how it goes. It’s obviously a huge game for both teams. Both teams are 1-1 in the series and both teams need the points. It makes it a big game.”
The two clubs, as Lucic details, have split the first two Battle of Albertas with the road team prevailing on both occasions.
Edmonton played Calgary in each club’s second game of the season, with the southern rival taking the first meeting 4-3 on October 15 at Rogers Place. The Oilers rallied against the Flames to take the second meeting 3-2 on October 29 at Scotiabank Saddledome.
After their December 27 tilt at the Dome, they won’t face each other again in regular-season play.
“I don’t know who made that schedule, but it’s nice to have them come here a couple times,” Calgary forward Nazem Kadri said. “The playoff structure, it is how it is, so we might be seeing them down the road also.”
The lack of frequency shouldn’t be an issue down the road, however.
“I think the demand to watch the games when we play each other is going to be constant, whether we play them 10 times a year or three times a year,” Nurse said. “I don’t think it ruins anything in that regard, but it’s just different not playing them as one of the closest teams that you have and one of the biggest rivals. That’s someone else’s job. We just show up and play.
“It’s always fun.”
"We want to start out hot & come out flying."
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins speaks ahead of the last Battle of Alberta of the regular season tonight in Calgary. pic.twitter.com/IxOo2vAS0b
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) December 27, 2022
And it’s important, too.
Calgary, at 16-12-7 and 39 points, holds the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference. The Oilers, with an 18-15-2 mark and 38 points, are nipping at the heels.
Neither team has a foothold on a Pacific Division spot just yet.
And a four-point swing in the Battle of Alberta is up for grabs right after the Christmas break.
“We’re almost at the midway point here so I don’t think it’s too early to say that,” Nurse said. “We want to collect as many points as possible, especially when you’re playing a team that’s right there with you in the standings.”