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MacDonald makes most of opportunity

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
Joey MacDonald helped keep the Red Wings in the game Saturday, making 22 saves in a relief appearance in the final 45-minutes. (Photo by Getty Images)
EDMONTON, Alberta – Just when the hockey world thought Sam Gagner couldn’t possibly build on his individual performance of two nights ago, the Oilers’ center continued with his hot hand Saturday at Rexall Place.

Gagner was up to tricks again, starting Saturday where he left off Thursday, figuring in all three of the Oilers’ first-period goals, and helping chase Red Wings goalie Ty Conklin, who did not return following the first intermission.

Gagner became the first NHL player in more than 23 years to get eight points in a game when he did so in Edmonton's 8-4 victory against the Chicago Blackhawks. He added three more points Saturday, collecting two goals and an assist in helping the Oilers defeat the Wings 5-4 in a shoot-out. He also scored in the shoot-out.

Backup Joey MacDonald entered the game at the start of the second period. The Wings’ third string goaltender arrived in Edmonton following his Friday recall from Grand Rapids after it was learned that All-Star goalie Jimmy Howard had a fractured finger on his blocker hand.

MacDonald came into the game in a very difficult spot, but kept the Wings in the game, making 13 saves in the second period. He was spectacular in relief, stopping 22 of 23 shots, and the Wings actually bounced back from a two-goal deficit to take the lead in the final four-minutes of regulation.

But the Oilers managed to force overtime when Jordan Eberle scored with 39-seconds left.

Saturday was the first time this season that Conklin hasn’t finish a start. He surrendered three goals on nine shots, including a backbreaker by Gagner with one tenth of a second remaining the first period. 

Asked to assess Conklin’s performance, coach Mike Babcock said, “It’s wasn’t good enough. It’s an opportunity for him, he wanted to grab it. We need him to get confidence for himself and for the guys and it wasn’t the way we wanted it to go. It’s a tough break for him, but Joey Mac got an opportunity and he did well with it.”

The Oilers might be the second worst team in the Western Conference standings, but Edmonton’s power play has been lethal at home and it added two more in the first period. The Oilers have the league’s best home power play (25.4 percent), netting 26 goals in 103 power play opportunities.

MacDonald was pressed into service almost immediately when in the first minute of the period Shawn Horcoff came in on left wing and fired a shot to the opposite side that glanced off of the goalie’s trapper.

“They had a few good chances in the second period, right off the hop and got me into the game quick,” said MacDonald, who was seeing his first NHL action of the season. “I just tried to hold the fort; we knew we would comeback with these guys, these guys just never give up. And that’s what we did; we battled right to the end.”
This season, MacDonald has posted an 11-11-3 record with a 2.63 goals-against average and a .913 save percentage with the Griffins.

“I thought he did a good job, obviously with the situation, we called him up and he made some saves for us,” Babcock said. “We needed some saves at that point in the game so we could crawl back into the game.”

But MacDonald knows the routine with the Wings, where he has been called upon in the past to contribute in a backup role. His last relief appearance came last March when Howard suffered a shoulder injury in the third period of a game against Toronto.

“Things were going good down in Grand Rapids and I was playing a lot, 10-11 in a row,” said MacDonald, who chose to sign a two-year contract last July to stay in the Wings’ organization. “Whenever you play more and more the better you get. Same thing here, I just got in last night and I got an opportunity to hop right in tonight, so we’ll build on it and go from there.”

The Wings traveled to Phoenix right after Saturday’s game and the players have an off-day Sunday. Babcock said that he was undecided on who would start Monday’s game against the Coyotes and Arena.

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @RooseBill

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