A breath of fresh outdoor air seemed to jolt the Edmonton Oilers from their seasonal slumber on Sunday.
Evander Kane had a goal and two assists as the Oilers defeated the rival Calgary Flames 5-2 in the Heritage Classic outdoor game at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton in a battle between two teams that have had less than stellar starts to their NHL seasons.
“I thought we got back to our foundation of how we like to play and how we need to play,” Kane said. “I thought we skated really well. We were physical and if you look at the goals we scored, every single one of them was around their blue paint or creating havoc around their blue paint. That is a recipe for success for our group.”
Brett Kulak, Zach Hyman, Evan Bouchard and Vincent Desharnais also scored for the Oilers (2-5-1) who snapped a four-game losing skid.
“This was a big game for either side, with the teams not off to a great start,” said Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl, who had two assists. “It could be a little bit of a kick-starter. It is only one game, but it is definitely nice to do it in front of all these fans at home here and get the two points.”
Oilers head coach Jay Woodcroft said he is not surprised his team stepped up for this game.
“We have a lot of proud people in our organization and no one’s been happy with the way we started the season. I just think we’ve got to playing a certain way,” he said. “It was a big night for our city and for our organization.”
A.J. Greer and Nazem Kadri replied for the Flames (2-6-1), who have now lost five games in a row.
“We gotta keep believing,” said Flames forward Mikael Backlund. “We have a really good team here. I believe in the guys. We have to stick with it. Play with the effort we had tonight and clean some things up, we’re going to win games eventually.”
It was much warmer (3 Celsius at puck drop) than at the original Heritage Classic 20 years ago which reached -30 C with the wind chill in 2003, much to the relief of Edmonton fans.
Those same fans were also pleased when Edmonton started the scoring four minutes into the opening period as Flames’ netminder Jacob Markstrom allowed a big rebound on an opportunity by Kane and defender Kulak was down deep to sweep in a backhand shot.
Edmonton made it 2-0 midway through the first period right after killing a two-man disadvantage as Leon Draisaitl came out of the box and waited for Hyman to catch up on a two-on-one before dishing it to him for his third goal of the season.
Calgary got one back with five minutes to play in the first frame and just one second remaining on yet another two-man advantage as a high Kadri shot deflected off of goalie Stuart Skinner’s blocker and into the net. It was Kadri’s first goal of the campaign.
Edmonton regained its two-goal cushion a minute later as Bouchard scored on a long slap shot through traffic. Oilers captain Connor McDavid, who was a game-time decision to return from injury, picked up an assist to extend his home scoring streak to 24 games.
Calgary got another power-play goal 8 1/2 minutes into the second period as Mackenzie Weegar split the defence for a point-blank shot, with the rebound deposited by Greer.
Edmonton got a big goal six minutes into the final frame as a Desharnais point shot took a high bounce off of the ice and past Markstrom. It was Desharnais’ first career NHL goal.
“It’s a pretty cool environment to get your first goal in,” he chuckled.
The Oilers put the game away for good in the final minute on an empty-netter by Kane, his second of the season.
“Nobody enjoys losing in that dressing room, we take it very personal and we’ve got a lot of pride,” Kadri said. “I think guys are going to be able to look at themselves and be accountable and we’ll have better performances.”
The 2023 Heritage Classic marked the 20th anniversary of the NHL’s first regular-season outdoor game in the modern era, held in front of 57,167 fans, who braved frigid conditions with wind chill temperatures reaching -30 Celsius on Nov. 22, 2003, to watch the Montreal Canadiens defeat the Edmonton Oilers 4-3 at Commonwealth Stadium. There have been 36 NHL outdoor games since. It was the third outdoor game for each franchise. Edmonton was the visiting team at the 2016 Heritage Classic in Winnipeg, defeating the Winnipeg Jets 3-0. Calgary hosted the 2011 Classic and defeated Montreal 4-0 in 2011. The Flames lost 2-1 in overtime to the Jets in the 2019 Heritage Classic in Regina, Sask. Calgary forward Kadri took part in his fifth outdoor NHL game. The 2023 Heritage Classic was declared a sellout by the NHL with an announced attendance of 55,411.
Calgary defenceman Rasmus Andersson missed the game as he finished serving his four-game suspension. Out with an injury for the Flames was Adam Ruzicka (shoulder). With McDavid returning from his upper-body injury after missing two games, the Oilers were healthy. Edmonton’s 1-5-1 record was tied for their worst seven-game start to a season, while Calgary was experiencing their second-worst eight-game beginning to a campaign with a 2-5-1 record. They were tied for the sixth fewest goals scored in the NHL this season with just 17 apiece, and had allowed the fourth- and fifth-most goals against.
The Calgary Flames return home to take on the Dallas Stars on Wednesday. The Stars then head to Edmonton to face the Oilers on Thursday.