- "[Detroit has] a veteran lineup that does a lot of good things," Head Coach Tom Renney said. "They make you play poorly or really well, so we're obviously hoping for the latter.
"It's a great challenge for us, we're looking forward to it."
The Oilers come into tonight's game having lost three straight, all on the road, as the club returns home to Rexall Place sporting a below .500 record and a 12th place standing in the NHL's Western Conference.
The orange and blue's latest outing saw them come closer, dropping a 3-2 decision to a perennial powerhouse in the San Jose Sharks; but the assignments don't get any easier, as the Red Wings' 20-10-1 record presents another daunting opponent ahead on the Oilers' quick two-game homestand.
"I think we played better last game," said Sam Gagner
who, on a personal note, has been producing much more as well, scoring three goals and 12 points in 25 games this season. "We were a little loose and making plays, and I think that's important for us.
"We've got a young team and we need to stay focused on being solid defensively and not turning the puck over, but at the same time, we've got to play loose and enjoy ourselves out there, and make plays with each other. I thought we did that last game; and while we didn't get rewarded with a win, sometimes you lose one you shouldn't prior to going on a big winning streak.
"Tonight's a big night for us and we're going to turn things around."
As disappointing as Saturday's result was, it was made even worse, as the Oilers held a second-period lead when Ryan Jones
' shorthanded marker put the visitors up 2-1. The Sharks tied it up, but took the lead when Theo Peckham
's third-period penalty allowed the home side to cash with the man-advantage.
"It's crucial to stay out of the box, especially in important times in the game," Gagner explained. "For the most part, our special teams have been quite good this season. We were putting so much emphasis on making [the opponent] work. 5-on-5, we've got to make sure we're playing solid, moving our feet and not taking those penalties that will cost us games.
"Detroit has a lethal power-play; even when they're not scoring, they're creating chances and adding momentum. We can't let them do that tonight." BATTLING THROUGH
Veteran rearguard Ryan Whitney
has been back in the lineup for 11 straight, but isn't 100-percent. The 28-year-old admitted that his struggling start to the season could be due to some pain he's been forced to deal with as the 2011-12 campaign rolls along.
"It's not really looking at points," he said, pinpointing his slow start. "It's about feeling better about my whole game. It's physical and mental, but it's physical when you take a stride and feel pain. You've got to be mentally strong to get through those things, because a lot of guys are playing in pain.
"It's tough to be comfortable when you're in pain, so there's a thought process you've got to have in getting by that."
"I hope he's there," Renney added. "I'm not going to sit here and critique a guy in front of the media, to be honest, it's not my style. We need Ryan to play well. We need all our players to play well."
Whitney agreed with his coach's sentiment. Averaging 18:38 per game, down from last season in which he patrolled the ice in 25-plus, and having recorded only two assists on the season, the Oilers' No. 1 D man knows he needs to be better; but it's a comment not lost on the club's desire to climb the standings, as each person in the locker room needs to step up.
"We need to be better. We need to be better as a team." Nikolai Khabibulin
returned to the pipes in Saturday's game, stopping 34 shots as he notched the loss. He'll get back in tonight looking for redemption, as the Oilers need a win to keep pace with the conference's post-season dwellers.
"We have to approach every game as its own entity," Gagner said. "They're tough games, but for now we've got Detroit. It's going to be a tough test for us, but we thought we played pretty well last game; and assuming we continue to play that way, have intensity and make plays like we did, we're going to win more games than we lose.
"It's important for us to have a good start and establish the tone right away." -- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com
- Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick