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Oilers try to stay hot as Wings come to town

by Matthew Mankiewich

RED WINGS (35-16-1) at OILERS (20-26-5)


Last 10: Detroit 9-1-0; Edmonton 4-4-2

Season Series: Third meeting of four, the first two both Detroit wins, and both on goals by Drew Miller. He scored the opening tally in a 3-0 shutout at the Joe on Nov. 11 and the tiebreaker late in the third period of a 3-2 win at Rexall Place on Dec. 19. That extended the Wings' winning streak against the Oilers to seven dating back to the 2009-10 season; the last Oiler win came on March 19, 2010, a 3-2 shootout victory at home. In their last 21 meetings, the Red Wings are 14-1-6 against the Oilers.

Big Story: Sam Gagner made history on Thursday with his eight-point performance and the Oilers are playing well with a 3-0-1 record in their last four games. Trouble is, the Red Wings come in winners of nine of their last 10 games and the only break the Oilers get is not having to face goalie Jimmy Howard, who's out for at least the next two games with a broken right index finger. The Wings have begun to narrow the yawning gap between their home play and away, having won four of five on the road to bring their record to 15-14-0. A 4-3 shootout win in Vancouver on Thursday extended their lead in the Western Conference to four points.

Team Scope

Red Wings : Basically, the Wings played Thursday's road game like a home game, where they've won 17 in a row. They dominated the Canucks for the first two periods at Rogers Arena, outshooting them 30-11 and taking a 2-1 lead into the intermission, with only Roberto Luongo's strong play keeping it close. The Canucks came back in the third, forcing overtime with a late Mason Raymond goal, but Detroit solved Luongo in the shootout, beating him twice to seal the 4-3 win and extend their record in the post-game skills competition to 6-0. Five of the Wings' last nine wins have come in similar fashion.

"When you've won a few in a shootout you're a confident bunch," captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. "We've been switching it up a little bit, having different guys go but guys have been very confident going in there."

Lidstrom did add, however, that the confidence starts with Howard, who they'll be doing without for hopefully a short while.

Oilers: At age 22, Gagner is looking forward to a long NHL career. Thanks to what he did on Thursday, he can now be mentioned in the same breath as Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Paul Coffey, Maurice Richard and Bryan Trottier. The amazing part of his big night: Going into Thursday, the Oilers had managed only 15 goals in their previous 10 games.

Right now, though, Gagner is living in the moment.

"I had 60 (texts and emails) last night and another 50 when I got up this morning, so it's been a lot of work writing everyone back," Gagner told the Oilers' website. "It's nice to see that support from everyone.

"I got a couple really big ones too … Wayne Gretzky texted me, and Paul Coffey as well. To be mentioned in a record with those guys is a pretty special feeling … really an honor."

Who's Hot: Gagner had plenty of help on Thursday; Jordan Eberle had a four-point night and has scored goals in three of his last four games. Taylor Hall also had four points and has scored in three straight. … Jiri Hudler has four goals in his last three games for the Wings, while Danny Cleary has four points in his last three.

Injury Report: Detroit forward Patrick Eaves (fractured jaw) is still weeks away. … For the Oilers, rookie forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, out since Jan. 2 with a shoulder injury, is expected back in the lineup Saturday.

Stat Pack: With Howard out of commission, Ty Conklin will likely get the start with Joey McDonald coming up from the AHL to back him up. He's 4-2-0 with a 3.02 goals-against average versus the Oilers. It would be the first anniversary of the last time he faced Edmonton, beating them 5-3 in a St. Louis Blues uniform. The Red Wings have outscored the Oilers 22-9 in their last six matchups.

Puck Drop: Gagner was a first-round pick by the Oilers in 2007 but has never become the big scorer they hoped he'd be. Coach Tom Renney hopes the eight-point explosion is a sign of bigger things to come for Gagner and some of the other youngsters in the organization.

"That's what you can look forward to here," he said Friday. "I'm not saying we're going to be doing extraordinary things offensively every time we play, but this team is going to be special. It's got kids who are deeply committed to where this thing can go with their help."

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