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AT THE MORNING SKATE
A depleted crew took to the ice for Oilers morning skate Friday, with Ethan Moreau, Tom Gilbert, and Shawn Horcoff among the absentees.
In keeping with Head Coach Pat Quinn's "win and you're in" goaltending schedule, Devan Dubnyk will get the start tonight. With 10 starts on his resume, the rookie goalie is still looking for his first win -- a cause Quinn says the team is rallying around.
"He's liked by his teammates and they know he's been working hard and I think they would certainly very much appreciate a good result for him tonight," the coach said. "It means we'll have to be a lot better than we were against, say, the Wild to help our goaltender achieve that."
A win tonight over Detroit will be a tough task, but the Oilers say they're up for it.
"Obviously they're a great team and they've got a lot of skill, but it just makes us more keen on our system work and more focused," Assistant Coach Kelly Buchberger explained. "We know they've been playing better of late and we've got to make sure we come out ready tonight."
Forward Shawn Horcoff added that although the Wings struggled earlier in the season, they have bounced back and are yet again a force to be reckoned with.
"They're a team that has also battled some injuries this year and it's affected where they are in the standings, but they're pretty close to healthy now, outside of maybe (Jonathan) Ericsson, and they seem to be playing well so it's going to be a real tough test tonight," he said.
Young blueliner Taylor Chorney is prepared to face a playoff-hungry club tonight.
"They're a team that has made the playoffs for probably like the last 15 years or something crazy and right now they're on the bubble so you've got to figure, as a veteran group, they're pretty hungry and I'm sure they're going to be coming in ready to play," he said. "For a young group like us, it's definitely a good challenge and I'm looking forward to it."
Sam unconcerned with line switch
After being demoted to fourth line at yesterday's practice, Sam Gagner could be frustrated with the change, but the young forward had nothing but positive things to say Friday morning.
"No matter who you're playing with, you've got to find a way to contribute. We're rolling four lines right now and everybody's getting the opportunity to play equal minutes, a lot of minutes, and I think obviously that's a good thing for guys going forward."
Gagner takes pride in his effort on the ice and said that being a good teammate is his number one priority as the season winds down.
"You want to be a guy that your teammates look to in important situations and they say, 'He's going to show up, he cares, and he wants to be a winner," he explained. "I think if you don't have that respect from your teammates, you're not going to go a long way in this game.
"It's the most humbling game there is. The only thing you can really bring is your effort and your preparation, and from there, hopefully gain the respect from your teammates and move forward. Everybody in here is looking towards doing that."
RED WINGS (34-23-12) vs. OILERS (21-42-7)
Last 10 -- Detroit 7-2-1; Edmonton 2-7-1
Season series -- Seems like a different season, it's definitely a different team. The Red Wings and Oilers have met twice this campaign, way back on Oct. 29 and Dec. 3, and both games went Edmonton's way. The Wings haven't lost three in a row to the Oilers since they lost 13 straight to them from March 19, 1983 to March 11, 1987. For all their woes this season, the Oilers have won four of their last six at home.
Big story -- The long-awaited resurgence has come and the Red Wings are playing like themselves once again. Since an embarrassing 6-3 loss to the Canucks in the second game out of the Olympic break, they've won five of six -- the lone loss at the hands of the pursuing Calgary Flames, which was then avenged on Monday. They go into action a point ahead of those Flames in the eighth spot in the Western Conference and three points behind Nashville for seventh.
Red Wings -- Faced with a possible tie with the Flames Monday night for the final playoff spot, the Wings clamped down on Calgary's power play and opened up some breathing room with a 2-1 win. Tomas Holmstrom staked a claim in front of Miikka Kiprusoff and redirected a Johan Franzen slap shot into the net with 1:19 left for the game winner.
That opened up a three-point gap between hunter and hunted, cut back to one on Wednesday with Calgary's victory over Colorado. They matched their longest winning streak of the season at three games, and look to extend it to a fourth.
"We know how important (Friday's) game is," defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom told the Detroit Free Press. "We know we still have to play with desperation."
Oilers -- It's one game at a time these days for the last-place team in the NHL, mathematically eliminated from the playoffs on their last road trip. About all they can do now is secure jobs for next year and try to make life miserable for everyone else. Ending a five-game skid wouldn't hurt either.
Three of the four teams coming to Rexall Place on the Oilers' upcoming four-game homestand have something to play for and a loss could make things rather dicey. The Wings need to hold off the Flames and every other team with a shot. San Jose, Sunday's opponent, is locked in a struggle for top seed with the Blackhawks and the Canucks are trying to keep third seed as Northwest Division leader away from the upstart Avalanche.
"That's the silver lining in this year," defenseman Ryan Whitney told the Canadian Press. "You can be a spoiler.
"The way I look at it, Detroit's in a dogfight for the eighth spot. They come in here and play the 30th-place team and lose, imagine how good we'd feel. You take little victories like that as a sign you want to be here, you want to be playing. This is our chance to be in a playoff game. I think you have to look at it like that."
Who's hot -- Here's a case of one hot player making the ones around him hot as well. Franzen's return to form is well-documented. In the 11 games since his return, Franzen has nine points. Linemate Pavel Datsyuk has six goals and six assists in that frame. And the third member of the line, Holmstrom, has 10 points in his last 10 games.
"Pav is not the easiest guy to play with," goalie Chris Osgood told the Free Press. "He does a lot of different things that some other players obviously can't do, and Mule (Franzen) really reads off him really well and does things that help Pavel as well. They are a real potent combination for us."
Injury report -- Detroit left winger Kirk Maltby (shoulder) is now on long-term injured reserve after right shoulder surgery which will keep him out four to six weeks, leaving any chance of a return dependent on a deep playoff run. … Oilers center Patrick O'Sullivan (hand) has missed three games and remains questionable.
Stat pack -- Special teams drive the Winged Wheel these days. Detroit has converted 12 of its last 36 power plays, scoring at least one man-up goal in 10 straight games. They've also killed 10 straight short-handed opportunities over their last six contests, and have held opponents to a 3-for-49 success rate over their last 16 games. Starting Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard has a 1.33 goals-against average over their three-game streak, but a 4.32 GAA against the Oilers in the two losses. The Red Wings have made the playoffs 17 straight seasons for the longest active postseason streak in professional sports.
Puck drop -- "If we play good, we're going to get into the playoffs, so that's what we try to do. What I like is, I think we've won seven of our last nine. It looks like we're going in the right direction." -- Red Wings coach Mike Babcock on the team's recent play.
-- Matthew Mankiewich , NHL.com