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AT THE MORNING SKATE
Judging from morning skate, the Oilers are expected to maintain their lines from Thursday's practice tonight vs. Detroit. Ales Hemsky slips in on the right side with Taylor Hall and Shawn Horcoff, while Jordan Eberle will skate with Magnus Paajarvi and Sam Gagner.
Gagner is eager to hit the ice with the two rookies.
"Obviously Eberle's cycle game is great, he's so smart and makes little plays that open up a lot of room for you and I think that's got to be the thing for me to feed off of, is try to give and go with him and make plays that way," the young center explained. "And obviously Magnus, with his speed, he opens up a lot of room that way, and I've got to try and get him the puck with speed as much as possible and hopefully we can develop some chemistry."
Speed and chemistry will be key tonight as the Oilers face the formidable Red Wings. A stacked roster and winning record gives the visitors the statistical edge, but with three wins over Detroit last season, Edmonton has the tools to clip the Wings.
According to Oilers Head Coach Tom Renney, there is no simple recipe for success against such a talented squad.
"Fear is a great motivator," he said to the media post-practice. "We can't afford to play anything but our very best and, certainly from an effort-perspective, we need that. And then beyond that against Detroit as usual, you have to execute accordingly and you really have to hang in there and manage the puck because they don't take too many shifts off.
"It's an opportunity to create some type of momentum and feel-good because they're a great team."
Assistant Coach Steve Smith is looking for intensity from the Oilers tonight.
"[The Red Wings are] probably one of the hardest working teams in the league, and we know that their top players are going to give an absolute concerted effort every time they're on the ice," he explained. "They're going to be really solid offensively and really solid defensively. I think they control the puck so well that that really makes them what they are. Their puck management is as good as any in the game, and I think just matching their intensity gives us an opportunity to win."
From a players' perspective, Jordan Eberle said it's important not to over-think the opponent.
"Obviously there's a lot of heritage behind this team but you can't focus too much into that," he said. "It's just any other game. If we go out and play our game, we have a shot to win the game, so you can't build things up too much."
Gagner is looking forward to a "fun" test tonight.
"We haven't obviously had the best years of the past couple years, but when you come up against a team like Detroit, you want to test yourself," he said. "I think the biggest thing for us is to have that respect factor for them, but at the same time we've got to close on them and take away their space and they're going to be less effective with less time. I think that's got to be our focus and hopefully we can do that tonight."
-- Jen Sharpe, edmontonoilers.com
Season Series: This is the first of four meetings. Shockingly, the Oilers took three of four from the Red Wings last season despite finishing with 40 fewer points.
Big Story: The Red Wings are getting healthy and hitting their stride, having won five of six thanks to return of forwards Johan Franzen and Justin Abdelkader and goaltender Jimmy Howard during the stretch. Meanwhile, the Oilers look like they could be facing another long season. They've lost seven of eight since a 2-0 start.
Red Wings: Justin Abdelkader missed the first eight games of the season but made his presence felt against the Flames on Wednesday. He scored the game-winner in the second period as the Red Wings emerged with a 2-1 victory.
"It feels great," Abdelkader said. "I think our line (featuring Mike Modano and Dan Cleary) can be successful when we can hang onto pucks, cycle down low [and] bring it to the net. It's going to open up a lot of things."
Oilers: If not for a terrible start at home against the Vancouver Canucks, the Oilers might be looking for their third straight win Friday.
But a 3-0 hole was too deep, as the Oilers fought back just to lose 4-3.
"It was like Yin and Yang out there, two different teams," said Ryan Jones, at a loss to explain the defeat to the Edmonton Sun. "It's like we have extreme highs and extreme lows. We continually do this, show spurts of being a great hockey team but also show periods of being the team we are right now, bottom of the standings.
"When we can put 60 minutes together we're going to be a dangerous team."
Who's Hot: Red Wings star Pavel Datsyuk has points in six straight games (4 goals, 4 assists). … Oilers rookie Jordan Eberle has 3 goals and 3 assists in his last seven games.
Injury Report: Red Wings defenseman Brian Rafalski (knee) could return next week. Goaltender Chris Osgood is nursing a sore groin. … Oilers left wing Steve McIntyre is out with a sore back.
Stat Pack: The Red Wings have scored at least one power-play goal in eight of 10 games this season. … The Oilers haven't lost at home to the Red Wings since March 24, 2009.
Puck Drop: "Well, he's better than everybody. I mean, he's just flat-out better. He slides better, he thinks better, he shoots better. There are some young guys coming, but Nick is 40 years old and is one of the best players in the game, still. He's brilliant, that's all." -- Red Wings coach Mike Babcock, on Nicklas Lidstrom
-- Dave Lazo - NHL.com Staff Writer