Battle of Alberta doesn’t hold much allure anymore

At a certain point, it seems absurd to keep calling it the Battle of Alberta.

Just look at how the Calgary Flames and the Edmonton Oilers were faring going into Saturday night’s meeting at the Saddledome.

Sure, the Flames were coming off a thrilling 4-3 overtime win over the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings just before Christmas, but that came on the heels of an eight-game losing skid.

Meanwhile, the Oilers arrived in the Stampede City having lost eight straight and on a dismal 1-13-6 run that’s soiled their playoff hopes already.

Two wins in a 29-game span for the two clubs hardly inspires a battle.

Plus both clubs are more focused on their need for a win than any shenanigans that would conjure memories of the great days when the Battle of Alberta really was something to behold.

“We have great history against the Flames and a great rivalry against the Flames — I think it’s dying down right now,” Oilers GM and interim head coach Craig MacTavish said. “We’re in search of a win.”

For those longing for the provincial clashes to have some real oomph, it’ll take one thing: Playoffs.

The Flames have missed the playoffs in each of the last five seasons and are in tough to snap their drought.

As for they Oilers, they’d love to be only at Year 5 of non-playoff hockey. They last made the second season in 2006 and are on pace to finish last … again.

A playoff meeting seems as possible as Johnny Manziel winning the NFL’s Humanitarian of the Year award.

“Unless we’re in the playoffs, it’s pretty tough to have rivals,” Flames head coach Bob Hartley said. “I understand the geography of Alberta and the natural rivalry, but my goal is to take my team in the playoffs. That’s where my focus is. Until we meet the Oilers in the playoffs, I don’t put to much stock in this rivalry.”

Off the glass

The Flames are in a Pacific Division run of games that will tell a tale when it comes to their playoff hopes.

Starting with their clashes in Vancouver and in Los Angeles prior to the Christmas break, the Flames are in a stretch during which they face divisional foes in 10-of-13 outings.

But they’re trying not to put extra stock in the affairs.

“We’ve just got to keep playing,” Flames veteran left-winger Curtis Glencross said. “Sure, division games are big because they’re four-point games, but it doesn’t matter who we play, we have to be sharper.”

“We want to win every game. For us, they’re not any different. We all play 82 games,” Hartley added. “For us, (the focus) is to rack up two points every night.”

Hartley’s way of breaking up the long season has been seven-game segments, and the latest kicked off with the thrilling 4-3 overtime win over the Kings. The rest of the stretch will be made up by their six-game homestand, which kicked off against the Oilers on Saturday night.

“We’re in a situation where we can take care of ourselves,” Hartley said. “That’s the plan.”

In the crease

During the warmup, Flames players had baby blue coloured stick and sock tape to raise awareness for the Night Under the Stars formal gala next Saturday, a fundraising event at WinSport in honour of Emerson Stajan, the first-born son of Matt and Katie Stajan, who passed away shortly after he was born.

“It’s for a great cause and a great way to remember our little guy,” Stajan said. “Baby blue’s the colour that reminds us of him.”

Ice chips

Flames C Josh Jooris missed a second straight game due to an upper-body injury suffered Dec. 20 in Vancouver, a night he played through a foot injury. His mom’s Christmas dinner was good but apparently not with enough healing power … Hartley was asked whether rookie sensation Johnny Gaudreau reminded him of any young player he’s coached during his career, and he came up with an interesting reply: Chris Drury, who spent one season in Calgary and won a Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche. “You talk to Johnny, you talk to Chris Drury, you see the spark in their eyes,” Hartley said. “They want to do well and they love to be in the clutch. A clutch situation, it seems they find a way to rise to the occasion. Personality-wise, they look alike a lot.” … More praise on Saturday from Don Cherry for Flames captain Mark Giordano: “If this guy’s not Norris Trophy, I’ll eat your hat — that’s for sure,” Cherry said during his Coach’s Corner segment on Hockey Night in Canada. “There’s nobody better in the league right now.” … It was probably wise for Harvey the Hound to avoid the Oilers bench with MacTavish manning it and his team — let’s say this politely — struggling … Flames rookie C Markus Granlund has not yet been told to find a place to live and is still living in a hotel.

randy.sportak@sunmedia.ca

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