EDMONTON, AB - Last season, the Oilers suffered a sweep at the hands of the Detroit Red Wings. Tonight marks the first of two meetings against Detroit this season.
“They’re a good team, we know that,” Oilers centre Derek Roy said. “They have a lot of good puck control, some good defencemen with good puck control and some forwards that protect the puck down low. We’ve got to be ready for a battle tonight. We’ve got to get on our sticks, be ready for faceoffs and everything. They’re a good team and second-man quick, they’re always in there. We need to battle them for the puck and we’ve got to get some goals.”
The Oilers should have no problem getting motivated for this game. They are searching for consecutive wins for the first time since November and are coming off a good string of practices. The Oilers have points in four straight.
“We’ve been working hard every day in practice, which helps transition into the games,” Roy said. “I think everyone, it doesn’t matter who it is, has been working hard every day, trying to get better and that’s the only thing we can ask for right now is to, game by game, try and get better every day.”
Another factor contributing to the Oilers motivation is the quality of opponent, says Benoit Pouliot.
“They’ve always been a good team for the last bunch of years, that’s for sure,” Pouliot said. “They play hard, they play hockey the way it’s supposed to be played, they’re smart. Everybody knows Babcock behind the bench is the one who puts it out there and the guys do the job, they follow what he has to say. It’s going to be tough, it’s going to be fun but it’s always nice to play against a team that has the history like that or has been good for the past few years. You want to beat those guys and that’s what we’ll try to do tonight.”
Under Interim Coach Todd Nelson, the Oilers have points in four straight games and are coming off a 5-2 win over the New York Islanders on Sunday night. Nelson was asked if he thought the team was making strides as of late, and he says he thinks so, but it’s not something to write home about.
“Not a huge (stride), but it’s a stepping stone,” Nelson said. “We want to continue that tonight and the guys feel good about it, but once again, today is a new day and we’re facing an opponent that can score some goals and attack with a good offensive system so it will be a good test for us tonight.”
A lot of the success has been brought on by personnel changes, with Nelson and the three new players brought in. Roy, Rob Klinkhammer and Matt Fraser have all contributed to the stat sheet, combining for three goals and two assists in the last four games. The coach and players have brought a sorely needed spark.
“(Nelson is) actually a pretty relaxed guy but when it comes time to play, he’s in there. He’s going to let us know what to do and he’s very positive, which is what we need,” Pouliot said, who is also somewhat of a new face having just returned from a lengthy injury. “I’ve only been back for two games, but before that you could see the team playing much better than they did before. It shows that when you bring a new guy or a bunch of new guys for playing then you get a little puck. At the same time, the chemistry is better now and we’ve just got to keep it going.”
A GOOD COMBO
The line of Pouliot, Roy and Teddy Purcell has looked to be a handy combination as of late. The three appear to have good chemistry and provide a good mix of skilled guys like Purcell and Roy with a guy who goes to the net like Pouliot.
“It helps tremendously with getting in on the forecheck and I think we’ve been working hard pretty much every shift and trying to work for each other,” Roy said of playing with the two veterans. “There are some things we need to improve on, but at the end of the day we’ve been doing a good job of getting scoring chances and we’ve got to finish our chances.”
Communication has been key to the line gaining momentum as well.
“A lot of talk. I think we’re communicating very well, we’re finding each other on the ice,” Pouliot said. “We’re so close to each other in their zone so you’ve always got that support, you know the guy is going to be there if you’re stuck, which is good. Teddy is a great passer and a great playmaker, which makes it easy for me and Derek to get into positions to try and find that shot. Derek has been into the league so long that he can make those plays at both ends of the ice, offensively and defensively and that’s exactly what we need. They’re a good centre and a good winger. It’s up to me just to help them out as much as I can, get on that forecheck, create some chaos in front of the net and try to bury it.”
QUICK NOTES: Matt Hendricks needs a five-hit night to secure 100 for the season, he leads the Oilers in that category. Hendricks also had his first two-goal game of his career on Sunday. Taylor Hall is one point away from 250 for his career. Detroit has points against the Oilers in 27 of their last 28 meetings. The Oilers last win against Detroit was February 4, 2012.
-- Chris Wescott, edmontonoilers.com
RED WINGS (20-10-9) at OILERS (9-22-9)
TV: FS-D+, SNW
Season series: Tomas Tatar helped the Detroit Red Wings to a sweep of the Edmonton Oilers last season. He scored in a 5-0 win at Rexall Place on Nov. 2, 2013 and assisted on the Red Wings' only goal of regulation before scoring the decisive shootout goal in a 2-1 win at Joe Louis Arena in the most recent game on March 14, 2014. The Oilers have two wins in their past 15 games against the Red Wings, each via the shootout.
Red Wings team scope: Detroit begins the Alberta stretch of its six-game road trip with games on consecutive nights against the Oilers and Calgary Flames. The Red Wings will attempt to rebound from a 4-1 loss Saturday to the Vancouver Canucks to start the trip. "I don't think that there's any panic in here," forward Henrik Zetterberg told the Red Wings website. "I think we know what we can do. We know we are a good team when we do the right stuff, we've just gotta do it." Defenseman Xavier Ouellet will remain with the Red Wings, according to the Detroit Free Press, with Jakub Kindl eligible to come off injured reserve but not yet ready to play. Tatar has four goals in the past five games and 16 on the season, three off his career high established in 73 games last season.
Oilers team scope: Edmonton opened a four-game homestand Sunday with a 5-2 win against the New York Islanders and has points in four straight under interim coach Todd Nelson (2-0-2) for the first time since a four-game winning streak from Oct. 20-27. The Oilers now aim for consecutive wins for the first time since Nov. 7-9. "It's getting better every day," Nelson told the Oilers website in regards to implementing the new systems he wants the players to execute. Nelson has been integrating fresh faces into the mix, with forwards Matt Fraser (two goals in four games), Derek Roy (one goal, one assist in four games) and Rob Klinkhammer (one assist in one game) all contributing since their acquisitions. "They've provided a new look and created some new energy in the room," Nelson said.