GAME DAY: Oilers drop 4-2 decision to Red Wings
RED WINGS 4 - OILERS 2Sam Gagner continued his scoring ways, striking a pair as the Oilers battled back from a 2-0 deficit to tie the game. But a third-period goal by Drew Miller 2:23 after the Oilers had squared it up sealed the visitors' fate, putting them down for good in a 4-2 loss to the Red Wings Wednesday night in Detroit.
AT THE MORNING SKATEDetroit, MI - The Oilers assembled at the Joe Louis Arena at 11:30am ET this morning, prepping to challenge the Detroit Red Wings for the second time in three games in a unique and broken up home-and-home set.
The Joe has become a place where red and white losses simply don't happen anymore. The Oilers' 6-19-2 road record will be pitted against the Wings' dominant 17-game winning streak on home ice.
The man assigned to the task will be Nikolai Khabibulin, who has yet to win a game since Dec. 22 vs. Minnesota at Rexall Place. Along with a personal eight-game winless skid, the 39-year-old netminder hasn't played a game in his club's last six outings. While it will be a challenge to get back in the groove in such a hostile road environment, the veteran is ready to meet it head-on.
"Since I haven't played in so long, I've had more time in practice to work on a couple things, like working on the technical aspect of the game and keeping it sharp," Khabibulin said. "I like to get in the game right away and get a couple shots, but that's something I cannot control. I've got to be ready for anything.
"From my standpoint, not having played in a while, I'm going to go out and keep it simple."
Keeping it simple ought to be a logical convention. On Saturday when these teams last met – and with the Oilers triumphing by a 5-4 score in a shootout – it was an end-to-end game with odd-man rushes that seemed to spawn at will. In going head-to-head against the league's best team, skill (and opposing danger) is always on display.
"Usually [Detroit has] some skilled guys, but they also have some guys that can play a gritty game," Khabibulin explained. It's usually a game with a lot of shots (Devan Dubnyk was tested with 39 on Saturday) and guys going to the net hard, but also when guys like Datsyuk and Zetterberg step on the ice, there's some skill involved and you've got to be ready."
"It's an exciting challenge to play against the Wings," added Sam Gagner, who's potted 12 points in his last three games. "They've been a great team in this league for a lot of years and it's a team you want to emulate. When you play against them, it's an extra level that you want to get to. Hopefully we can do it again tonight and come out with a win."
Helping the Oilers' cause in hoping to disrupt Detroit's dominant home surge, call-up Magnus Paajarvi has arrived back with the orange and blue is looking to "make an impact" tonight.
"You can always bring up goals, assists and points," he said, looking at what needs to improve in his game. "It's good hockey, good things and good details. I think that I've been doing that this year when I've been up here, but I haven't really gotten the production that I've wanted. It's been a disappointment in that way, but it's not going to work out every time. You can't dig down too deep; instead, keep working and be better. That's what I'm doing right now, is to not get down and to keep believing."
The 20-year-old sophomore has scored only one pro goal this season, but it came with the AHL's Oklahoma City Barons. Regardless, he'll get an opportunity to skate in the Top 6 as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins' 7-10 shoulder injury opens up a spot.
"I don't expect anything," Paajarvi said. "I play where the coach puts me. I'm glad to be back here. I really want to make an impact and really want to be a lot better than I have been; to show myself and others that I can play good hockey. Even though I've done that before, I want to be better.
"It will be awesome," he added about the challenge vs. Detroit. "They're the most exciting team to play against. There are a lot of Swedes there, and that's always a special thing for Swedes that play in this league. They're a great team. They're a really, really good transition team. They're really strong with the puck and they've got really skilled players from the D to their forwards."
It was that balanced attack that helped the Wings overcome a pair of two-goal Oilers leads (2-0 and 3-1) on Saturday, escalating to a 4-3 advantage prior to the home side's last-minute comeback.
Gagner, who notched a pair and added an assist in that game, believes there's room to pen improvement against their talented opponent.
"We need to play harder a little longer," he explained. "It's the 60-minute cliche. There were parts in that game where we got outplayed, but ultimately we were able to come out with the win. If we can continue to work on being consistent throughout the whole game, it should help us a lot."
Going into tonight, building on the weekend's edgy contest will pay dividends, too. The game was highlighted with eight non-obstruction penalties, with mitts draped across the ice in an emotionally-tilted Hockey Night in Canada appearance. Head Coach Tom Renney agrees that will be a necessary component heading into tonight, again on national TV.
"We all like edge," he said. "It's good, it keeps us all competitive and keeps you engaged. If you don't expect it and promote it, then you probably shouldn't be playing at this level.
"I think our start will be important," Renney added. "We've got to make sure that we're competitive right away. We need to alleviate the problems that we presented ourselves in Toronto by managing the puck better and not giving it away. I think special teams will be a key feature tonight, however many on each side that might be. We have to be a good penalty-killing team tonight and our power-play has to click."
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com - Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick