The Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers are set to commence another two-game chapter in the storied Battle of Alberta, starting Monday.
The Flames know they have their work cut out for them, especially when it comes to stopping Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
“Bottom line, he’s head and shoulders the best player in the league,” Calgary head coach Darryl Sutter said Sunday. “I don’t think there’s one player who stops Connor McDavid. He’s a tough guy to stop. You just try to slow him down within the rules, limit his chances.”
Limiting his chances won’t be easy, as McDavid has amassed 10 points in four games against the Flames this season alone.
Calgary has, however, regained some confidence since the arrival of Sutter and swept the Montreal Canadiens in two games this past weekend.
Sutter’s concentration has been as advertised, with small changes adding up to a tighter defensive outlook and a faster game overall. As such, the Flames have narrowed the gap in the North Division and find themselves just two points behind the Habs. That makes this upcoming tangle with Edmonton all the more important.
“We’re a lot sharper right now,” said Flames forward Sean Monahan. “We’re playing together. When you’re playing faster and moving your feet it’s going to generate a lot more looks and that’s what we’re getting right now.”
Calgary’s return to the structure that’s paved the way to previous success couldn’t have come at a better time, but they do have the pieces in place to capitalize over the long haul. They’ve received excellent goaltending from Jacob Markstrom, for instance, and they have the kind of workhorse lineup that enables Sutter to roll four lines the way he likes to do.
That approach is exactly how Sutter plans to handle the McDavid issue starting Monday: it will take a team effort.
“I don’t think he’s singled out the Calgary Flames as his main target,” Sutter said. “I’ve watched him lots, I live 80 miles from Edmonton, so I’ve watched Edmonton as much as Calgary and Vancouver. Obviously, they have a great power play and he pretty much dominates that part of the game, too. It’s on everybody to slow Connor McDavid down.”
If Calgary can swing a couple wins over the Oilers this week, the complexion of the season might change before our very eyes. And that could put Sutter and the Flames right where they want to be, especially given how quickly things can change at the top.
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