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Red Wings try to get back on track vs. Oilers

by David Kalan /

RED WINGS (24-10-5) at OILERS (12-18-7)
TV -- TSN (HD), FS-D+ (HD)

Last 10 -- Detroit 5-3-2; Edmonton 2-6-2

Season series -- The Red Wings lead the Oilers 2-0 with their last win a 6-2 trouncing on Nov. 11 at Joe Louis Arena.

Big Story -- After an unusual pair of back-to-back losses, the Red Wings are hoping a trip to Edmonton to take on the struggling Oilers will cure what ails them.

Team Scope:
Red Wings -- After a one-year sabbatical from the top of the Central Division, things appear to have righted themselves in Motown. The Red Wings are tied for first overall in the NHL with 53 points, and their prodigious offense has scored the most goals in the Western Conference. Detroit missed a golden opportunity to take sole possession of the League's top spot in their last game, a 3-2 loss to Philadelphia on Sunday afternoon, but with an eight-point lead over St. Louis in the Central the Wings are sitting pretty.

Still, Sunday's loss to the Flyers gave the Wings two straight defeats, which while currently just a blip, is something the team will want to curb quickly in the competitive race for home ice in the playoffs. If there is a major cause for concern, it could be goaltender Jimmy Howard, who has lost his last two outings and was given the hook after 40 minutes against Philadelphia, but Howard still leads the League in wins, and with an offense like Detroit's any goaltending-induced slump is likely to be short-lived. The Wings have been particularly potent of late, with Henrik Zetterberg and Nicklas Lidstrom each tallying 11 points in their last seven games.

Oilers -- Edmonton sits at the opposite end of the spectrum from its Tuesday night adversary, but despite the Oil's current position -- Edmonton is last in the West and 14 points off the pace for the final playoff spot -- there is plenty for the team to be excited about. With contributions from exciting youngsters like Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi, Edmonton's future looks bright, but the ups and downs that come with learning the game have been clearly evident in the Oilers' inconsistent season.

Those issues can be found in a microcosm in 2010 No. 1 pick Taylor Hall, who has had a solid rookie season with 22 points in 37 games, and looked like a bonafide star at times. But Hall has been prone to his slumps as well, such as his current one in which he has just 1 point in his last four games. As well, the team's growth has been complicated by the inconsistent play of veteran goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin, who has lost his last four starts. In a bizarre twist, however, Khabibulin's goals-against average over those starts, 2.53, is actually significantly lower than his season mark of 3.31. That fact may simply be another lesson for the youthful Oil, which seems to get a new primer every day on how each part needs to work to succeed at the game's top level.

Who's Hot -- Despite Edmonton's recent woes, Dustin Penner has quietly fashioned a four-game point streak with 1 goal and 4 assists. ... Detroit's Valtteri Filppula has scored in two straight games while putting together a five-game point streak of his own.

Injury Report -- Detroit's place atop what might be the League's most competitive division is all the more impressive given the litany of contributors who are currently on IR. Most notably, Pavel Datsyuk (broken right hand) is still expected to miss a few more weeks, while Danny Cleary will also be out at least a month after breaking his left ankle on Dec. 23. The Wings are likely to have Brad Stuart, however, who is listed as probably with a head injury. Patrick Eaves (elbow) is listed as questionable.

The Oilers recently placed Ryan Whitney on injured reserve with an ankle injury and could be without the slick skills of Eberle, who is questionable with an ankle injury of his own. Jim Vandermeer is expected to be activated in time for Tuesday's game after suffering his own ankle injury last month.

Stat Pack -- The Red Wings could be in for a scoring frenzy Tuesday night. Detroit's 3.41 goals per game are the most in the League, and with Edmonton surrendering a League-high 3.24 goals per outing, things could get out of hand quickly.

Puck Drop -- Despite their record, the Oilers are hardly pushovers. Ales Hemsky (6 points in the last four games) has been productive lately, which could be of concern for the Wings, but with Detroit opening a five-game road swing which will also pit them against Northwest-leading Vancouver on Saturday night, a victory would be a nice start to one of the Wings' longest trips of the season.

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