DETROIT - Tonight marks the first time that Red Wings fans get a chance to see Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid in person.
The Wings had faced McDavid in Edmonton last Oct. 21, a 3-1 Edmonton victory in which McDavid had the game-winning goal.
Then McDavid fractured his collarbone last Nov. 3 when crashing into the boards during a game against the Philadelphia Flyers, forcing him to miss the Nov. 27 game at Joe Louis Arena.
So far this season, McDavid leads the Oilers with 13 points.
"He's obviously had a short window here so far but he plays the game at a high level of speed and can make plays at that speed" Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. "Most guys that skate that fast aren't able to make that many plays at that high speed. He seems to generate, to get to top speed in matter of two or three steps. There's no questions he's an excellent player."
Oilers coach Todd McLellan, a former Wings assistant, said he could spend a half-hour talking about McDavid.
"Speed. But the ability to react to what's going on around him in his surroundings when he's going at full speed," McLelland said. "Character, the way he carries himself, leads the team, ambassador for the league and the game itself. He's got some real good instincts that are very hard to teach or instill in young players. When you combine all of those characteristics together, you've got Connor McDavid."
But McDavid isn't the only reason the Oilers are 8-3-1 this season and sitting atop the Pacific Division and tied with the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference with 17 points.
"They're a real fast team in transition, they got a lot of skilled players up front," Blashill said. "Lots of people talk about McDavid but (Jordan) Eberle has been a great player in this league for a long time, he's been one of my favorites. (Leon) Draisaitl is really, really coming of age. (Ryan) Nugent-Hopkins, (Milan) Lucic, just keep going. They've got lots of guys up front, they're very well-coached, they play with good structure, so it'll be a good challenge tonight."
Eberle and Lucic are tied for second own the Oilers with eight points and Lucic's five goals are tied with McDavid for the team lead.
"He's been everything that we thought he'd be," McLellan said of Lucic. "Again, it's not easy being the new guy in town. He's adjusting to life in Edmonton, to life as an Oiler and he's done a tremendous job of it. His presence in our locker room, presence on the ice, goes noticed every night."
CHALLENGE FOR WINGS, OILERS: The Oilers are a challenge for the Wings because of their top talent and speed.
McLellan says the Wings also present a challenge with their speed.
"They're very quick up front," McLelland said. "Goaltender, Jimmy Howard's obviously proven he is very capable of playing. To beat a good team, you have to get to the goaltender. That'll be a key in that situation. I think Kronwall coming back has solidified the back end for them. And you know what, they're playing in Detroit. They always believe they can win here. That's one of the factors that the Red Wings have. I lived it here with them. You show up at the rink and you know if you give an honest effort, you have a chance to win. The team has to be prepared if they're going to challenge them for that."
Similar to the Winnipeg Jets Friday night, the Oilers are playing the second game of a back-to-back.
They won in a shootout against the New York Islanders last night.
"First back-to-back opportunity for us to test our group in that situation, maybe even with extenuating circumstances with the number of injuries that we have and the number of forwards that we had to play basically the whole game," McLellan said. "It'll be interesting to see how our group responds. I'm counting on a positive response, character-type game. But we know there's a pretty good team in our way and we'll have our hands full."
Already missing forwards Matt Hendricks, Drake Caggiula, Iiro Pakarinen and defensemen Andrew Ference, Mark Fayne and Brandon Davidson, the Oilers lost forwards Zack Kassian and Jesse Puljujarvi and defenseman Kris Russell in the Islanders game. The Oilers recalled defenseman Dillon Simpson and forward Taylor Beck.
Niklas Kronwall and Luke Glendening did not practice Saturday but Blashill said both are expected to play.