The Oilers improve to 7-1-0 record with a 2-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings in Ken Holland's first contest against his former club of 36 seasons
EDMONTON, AB - It was always going to be a strange night for Ken Holland.
The new Oilers General Manager and President of Hockey Operations has only been with the Oilers since May 6, but before that the 63-year-old spent 36 years with the Detroit Red Wings organization.
For 22 of those seasons, he donned the mantle of Red Wings' GM.
"It's going to be strange seeing a Red Wing jersey skating around and rooting against it, but that's the way it goes," the executive said pre-game surrounded by local and visiting media outside the Oilers locker room.
"It's going to be a strange night. For me, I want to get the two points. It's a huge two points and then we turn the page on to Winnipeg."
The Oilers backed up Holland's request in a 2-1 win over the Red Wings on Friday night in their new alternate jerseys, winning their second-straight game to improve their overall record to 7-1-0 on the season and 4-0-0 at Rogers Place.
Forward James Neal, Holland's most explosive acquisition from the offseason so far, notched his ninth goal of this young NHL campaign to open the scoring after both clubs were deadlocked midway through the second period.
The dealer deals long into the night, and 'The Real Deal' buried his second chance five-hole off a tip in the slot by Alex Chiasson 7:39 into the middle frame to give the forward his first point of the season.
"I think when you work to get into those areas when you're feeling it and in the zone, you feel like you're dangerous every time you get it," Neal said post-game. "It's a good feeling, and you ride it for as long as you can."
Defenceman Ethan Bear's second goal of the season, and second in as many games, would go down as the game-winner in Holland's first crack at defeating his former club. An assist for Leon Draisaitl on Bear's tally improves the German's point streak to a tidy six goals and 10 assists in eight games - just one behind Connor McDavid for the NHL's top spot in the scoring race.
"I don't really think about that stuff too much," Bear said. "I really just take things one shift at a time making sure I'm dialled in, pretty much making sure I can advance the puck as quick as I can and give myself the best opportunity to shoot when I get it."
The Bear continued roaring, with the Ochapowace, Saskatchewan product placing a pinpoint wrister through traffic and finishing the night with four shots and 21:40 of ice time - the third time in his last four games he's played above the 20-minute mark.
"We need it right now with (Adam) Larsson out," Head Coach Dave Tippett said. "He's come in and really filled a void for us there. He was a surprise in camp, and he's a good NHL player right now. We need him."
Goaltender Mikko Koskinen followed up his 49-save performance on Wednesday by making 25 saves on 26 shots to improve to 4-0-0.
"I think it's like in any professional sport," the Finnish netminder said. "Winning games, the atmosphere goes up. So everyone is enjoying it and it's positive."
The Red Wings pulled netminder Jonathan Bernier with less than two minutes on the clock, and Oilers Head Coach Dave Tippett called upon Bear for the responsibility of nullifying the threat in the dying moments.
In an unfortunate sequence, McDavid struck the post on an empty net and Patrick Russell hit his second iron of the night before the Oilers held on for the win ahead of the first game of a two-game road trip on Sunday against the Winnipeg Jets.