DETROIT – Sam Gagner remains the hottest hockey player on the planet, but the Detroit Red Wings are even hotter when they hit the ice at Joe Louis Arena.
Gagner scored two more goals for the Oilers on Wednesday night to give him eight in four games, but the Red Wings earned their 18th straight victory on home ice with a 4-2 triumph that upped their jaw-dropping record at "The Joe" to 21-2-1 this season.
Johan Franzen, Cory Emmerton, Drew Miller and Henrik Zetterberg each scored goals for Detroit (26-17-2), while Joey MacDonald picked up the win in net while starting for the second straight game in place of Jimmy Howard, who's out with a fractured right index finger.
"The home win streak is really unique," said Miller, whose goal at 10:46 of the third was the game-winner and gave Detroit the lead back after Gagner had tied it 2:23 earlier. "I don't think we go into it really trying to say, 'Hey, let's do it to get this streak.' I think we're just trying to establish our game at home and play night in and night out the way that we should play."
The fact that effort has resulted in 18 straight victories, however, is pretty mind-boggling. The San Jose Sharks and Calgary Flames remain the only teams to beat the Wings in regulation in this building, with the Minnesota Wild managing to escape in overtime with two points. Otherwise, it's been nothing but frustration for opposing teams – who've all left Detroit after playing the Wings scratching their heads collectively or worse.
The Oilers (21-28-5) are no different. They're now winless in their last eight road games and let Gagner's heroics to bring them back from a two-goal deficit go to waste in the last half of the third period, when Miller and Henrik Zetterberg responded with goals to seal the victory.
"The way we responded to coming back and getting ourselves tied was almost fool's gold, because we thought we'd done enough," said Edmonton coach Tom Renney, who coached from the bench after missing a game on Monday because he'd been hit in the head with a puck at the Oilers' morning skate. "Clearly you don't ever do enough against Detroit until you beat them. I'm not happy with it. I don't like what I saw and I'm not happy with the way we put the effort in tonight. We gave a great team an opportunity to be even greater."
MacDonald did, too, only that was his goal from the start while filling in for Howard – who'd gone 20-2-1 while starting all 23 of the Wings' previous home games.
MacDonald didn't have to make many saves -- he faced only 17 shots -- but he was solid when the Wings needed him to be and played well behind a strong defensive effort from the skaters in front of him.
"It's huge," MacDonald said of the confidence boost from winning. "It's a tough game to play when you look up and you only have four shots [faced] halfway through the game. You got to stay mentally focused and be ready, because when they do get a shot it's going to be a quality scoring chance."
That's exactly what happened, too.
After Detroit's Franzen and Emmerton gave the Wings a 2-0 lead with goals in the first and early portion of the second, Gagner went to work at 11:08 of the second – converting a breakaway caused by a defensive lapse into his seventh goal in the past four games and 12th of the season.
That made it 2-1 and shifted momentum toward Edmonton for the rest of the period. In the third, Gagner swooped in and scooped a loose rebound in front of the crease on the Oilers' sixth power play of the game to score their only man-advantage marker at 8:23 of the third to tie it 2-2 – and also make you wonder if he's hiding a big "S" under his sweater.
"He's playing great," linemate Taylor Hall said. "I'm just happy to be the guy flanking him right now. He's going to the net and having really good timing getting open around the net and putting it in. You don't score goals for no reason in this League, especially against a team like Detroit. I'm sure he had spurts [in Junior] where he was this hot, but to do it at this level against the teams that we've played is pretty incredible."
Gagner has points in five straight games and has tallied 15 points (eight goals) in that torrid stretch – with the eight tallies split evenly against Central Division rivals Detroit and Chicago.
"He's on a kind of a roll there now," said MacDonald, who was beaten on a beautiful deke to the backhand for Gagner's first goal. "He made a good move there, and hey, that's what happens when you're on a roll."
The Wings should be familiar with that feeling by now on their home ice.
Not even 1:14 worth of 5-on-3 power play time in the first period was enough for the Oilers to dent Detroit's stellar defensive effort early – and then there was the late letdown in the third, after they'd come back to tie it.
The Wings pounced on it without hesitating and made it count. Darren Helm's shot from close range got through Khabibulin's pads not long after Gagner's second goal and stopped behind the Oilers goalie in the crease.
Miller won the mad scramble for it and knocked it in just ahead of Helm for the game-winning tally – his fourth goal in the past five games. Zetterberg then applied the icing with his 10th goal of the season and first in nine games to make it 4-2 with 5:16 left to play.
"I score some unnatural goals, I guess," said Miller, whose tally was his 11th -- the most he's had in a single season in his NHL career. "That's how I've always scored throughout my whole career, so it's nothing new to me. I thought Helmer was going to poke it in, so I was just going there to celebrate and see him. But it was laying there … so I thought I should poke it in."