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Behind Enemy Lines: Previewing the Oilers, Canucks and Flames

The Canes swing through Western Canada this week to start off a five-game road trip.

NHL: Preseason-Edmonton Oilers at Calgary Flames Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Edmonton Oilers

Tuesday, 9:00 p.m. at Rogers Place

NHL: Buffalo Sabres at Edmonton Oilers Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

The Carolina Hurricanes will begin a five-game road trip with a run through western Canada this week that starts on Tuesday night against the Edmonton Oilers. The obvious focus whenever the Oilers appear on the schedule is the presence of Connor McDavid. But so far this season, his long-time sidekick Leon Draisaitl has elevated his production on par with McDavid. Currently edging McDavid in overall points (53 for Draisaitl, 52 for McDavid), Draisaitl has pumped out a prodigious 15 even strength goals and he has provided the perfect co-star to McDavid, who is seen by many as the best player in the NHL.

That high-octane offense powered by McDavid and Draisaitl have pushed the Oilers into the top-10 of offenses in the league, and with improvement defensively based largely on new coach Dave Tippett’s system, their 18-10-4 record has them poised to compete for a playoff berth and possibly a Pacific Division title. The concern as the season wears on will continue to be the secondary scoring, as currently the reinforcements are led by a somewhat resurgent James Neal (14 goals) and Zack Kassian (9 goals). In order to maintain their standing, they will either need more scoring they can count on or hope to improve their defensive work even further in front of Mikko Koskinen and Mike Smith in net.

Smith was the veteran offseason acquisition, but he has shared time with Koskinen who has put together the better performance to date with a .921 save percentage and 2.53 goals against in 18 games played.

For the Canes to get their trip started off on the right foot, they will have to again hope that the exciting Jaccob Slavin vs. Connor McDavid matchup sees the Canes defenseman keep up with the speedy Oiler. No matter the result, that matchup is worth tuning in for at the very least.

Vancouver Canucks

Thursday, 10:00 p.m. at Rogers Arena

NHL: Buffalo Sabres at Vancouver Canucks Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Unfortunately, the Hurricanes will not be visiting the Vancouver Canucks as they sport their tremendous throwback uniforms, as they did this weekend against the Buffalo Sabres. Nevertheless, the Canucks have continued to score goals at a high rate in what has been a somewhat ahead of schedule first half in Vancouver.

The young core of scoring with Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser has been augmented by the terrific work from offseason acquisition J.T. Miller (31 points), captain Bo Horvat (24 points), and a 20-year-old first round pick in defenseman Quinn Hughes (24 points). With 103 goals in just 30 games, the Canucks have put together a top-five offense that has shown depth, and perhaps signals them as playoff contenders in the Pacific Division.

Jacob Markstrom has held his own in net (.913 save percentage) in the early going, as the Canucks are firmly in the middle of the NHL pack defensively. While their defensive blueline is not packed with shutdown performers, they have been solid enough to allow their offensive work to push them into playoff contention.

The question that will arise as the season progresses is whether or not the front offense attempts to ramp up their own timeline regarding the rebuild as the Canucks challenge for the postseason. Will they sacrifice future assets to attempt to secure playoff berth in 2020? If so, blueline help and potentially additional secondary scoring would be where they would try to improve with some veteran help, as performers such as Loui Eriksson have simply not provided any return on investment.

That decision process could have a dramatic effect on not only their arc for this season, but the arc of the entire building process, as the Canucks work to return to their form from last decade.

Calgary Flames

Saturday, 4:00 p.m. at Scotiabank Saddledome

NHL: Buffalo Sabres at Calgary Flames Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports

The Canes complete their week with a matinee in Calgary on Saturday. Obviously, with the recent news in Calgary regarding the resignation of former head coach Bill Peters, some of the story and media around Saturday’s visit to Calgary will once again focus on the former Canes bench boss. While Rod Brind’Amour is unlikely to say anything other than what he has already said, it is just another layer to what has always been an interesting cross-conference battle since the trades and coaching changes that the teams have had in common.

The Flames have put together a 3-0 run under interim coach Geoff Ward, and appear to be piecing back together their season after sputtering for most of the first half. Currently on a six-game point streak, the Flames continue to hang around as a playoff threat in the Pacific Division.

The slide offensively has been the most notable change for the Flames as they have dropped from second in the league a season ago to a struggling 24th with only 81 goals in 31 games. In order for the Flames to jump back into the playoff race, they will need more production across the board. While Matthew Tkachuk, Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau and Elias Lindholm have all surpassed 20 points, none has gone on a tear that has been able to carry the team for a week or two at a time. That may have to change in order for the Flames to push through in the crowded playoff picture.

David Rittich has stepped into the starting goaltender role solidly this season, putting together a .914 save percentage in 24 starts. His elevation was seen as possibly the biggest question mark for the Flames headed into the year, but he has answered most of the questions that have been directed his way.

While the Canes and Flames will deal with a level of distraction entering Saturday, each team knows that this is simply another important game in a schedule full of important games. Both teams will be happy to leave the Bill Peters drama in the past after their second meeting of the season comes to a close.