EDMONTON, AB - Andrew Miller will suit up for the Oilers tonight in his 10th NHL game. What makes it a special evening for the 27-year-old forward is, not only will he skate on a line with Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, he’ll play against a team he’s very familiar with.
Miller grew up in Bloomfield, MI, just a half-hour drive from Detroit. Although both his parents are from Buffalo, NY, and are big Sabres fans, Miller grew up a supporter of both the Sabres and Red Wings.
“A couple of my friends are die-hard Red Wings fans,” said Miller. “I’ve watched a lot of the Wings because they’re really the only thing on TV (in Michigan). They were a fun team to watch growing up.”
Miller has many Red Wings memories, but one that sticks out to him the most was being present for Steve Yzerman’s retirement ceremony in 2007.
“The one where they raised the banner for his number was a really cool experience,” said Miller. “It was an emotional time for all the fans and all the Wings and their staff. That was such a special game because he was a special, phenomenal player. I watched him a lot growing up.”
Miller will now try to upset some of his childhood friends by handing Detroit a loss.
“They’re a good team, a good skating team with a lot of skill. It’s fun to be here and I’m excited to play,” said Miller.
Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan is also very familiar the Red Wings. He worked as an assistant with Detroit from 2005-06 to 2007-08 and won the 2008 Stanley Cup with the club.
“It was a professional way, it was a professional approach to every game,” he said of the ‘Red Wing Way’. “Every minute was important. They tried to do things right all the time. Practice was as important as game situations. The high-end players showed up and played like high-end players night after night after night. It forced the youth to come along. When they finally needed a little burst of energy, the youth was there to provide it. They over-developed players in the minors so that there was always a succession plan coming in and they could inject players into the lineup that were ready to contribute, not just ready to play. They had good people in the organization.”
PLAYING THROUGH PROSPERITY
It may not seem like the toughest thing to do. When you’re winning, playing through prosperity should be easy and fun. But the Oilers are eager to see just how the players handle it.
Coming off two road wins against divisional rivals, the Oilers look to keep things rolling against Detroit at home.
“I think every day is a learning experience right now for our team,” said McLellan. “It’s an opportunity for us to show each other as teammates where we’re at mentally and physically. We’ve had a day off. We had a practice yesterday where we had to reel it in a little bit. I thought it got loose and we had to tighten things up.
“That will be an interesting battle for me and the coaching staff to see how the players will respond,” he added. “The score at the end of the night will be important. But it’s how we play and what we put into the game and are we cutting corners or are we playing the right way? If we’re doing those things that means there’s progress… We’ve talked about moving the needle a little bit. We’ve moved it a bit more but are we going to allow it to come back again? That’s what tonight is all about.”
Andrew Ference draws into the lineup tonight with Griffin Reinhart nursing an undisclosed injury. The veteran defenceman has played just one game this season.
“Everybody is practicing hard and you just skate hard when you’re not in and work on stuff after morning skates and in practice. It’s nothing out of the ordinary. You just put in the work and get ready when you’re ready to go,” said Ference.
The Oilers alternate captain has played over 900 NHL games in his career and has handled the decreased playing time as a consummate professional.
“I expect him to play very well. We believe that’s in his game and I think he’s going to deliver that,” said McLellan. “As far as how he’s handling it? Very professionally and as good as he can be. He’s working hard and doing the things you need to do away from the rink. But I think if you peel the onion back a little bit, it’s hurting him. It’s eating him and he wants to be in the lineup and he believes he can contribute. He’s going to get that chance tonight. How he’s behaving and how he’s acting is professional but deep down I’m sure it’s burning away at him.”
Season series: The Detroit Red Wings won each game against the Edmonton Oilers last season by a combined score of 9-4. Red Wings center Pavel Datsyuk had a goal and assist in each game and captain Henrik Zetterberg had four assists in the two games. Jordan Eberle had two goals for the Oilers.
Red Wings team scope: Detroit begins a three-game trip to Western Canada and will try to improve its special teams. The Red Wings ranked 20th on the power play (15.4 percent) and their penalty kill ranks 22nd (80 percent). "I think we need to be a little more dangerous [on the power play]," forward Justin Abdelkader said Tuesday after practice, according to the Red Wings web site. "[We need] better zone time, execution off face-offs, winning face-offs [and] trying to keep the puck in their zone as much as possible. It can't be just one and done." Petr Mrazek will start against the Oilers and again Saturday at the Vancouver Canucks. Jimmy Howard will start Friday at the Calgary Flames.
Oilers team scope: Edmonton is coming off back-to-back wins which has led to an increase in confidence. "I think it's just going to come with time," center Connor McDavid, who had two goals and two assists in the two wins told the Oilers website after practice Tuesday. "I'm getting more and more comfortable as the games go. I think that's pretty common with any rookie, so I'm feeling more comfortable." Rookie forward Andrew Miller practiced at right wing on the top line after being recalled Monday from Bakersfield of the American Hockey League. "We're looking for more of a playmaking ability to put in that spot, and we'll give him every opportunity," Oilers coach Todd McLellan said. Edmonton could be without defenseman Griffin Reinhart, who didn't practice because of an undisclosed injury and is day-to-day.