Despite another two goal performance from Sam Gagner, the Edmonton Oilers were thoroughly dominated on the road in falling 4-2 to the Detroit Red Wings. The Western Conference leaders have won eighteen straight at Joe Louis Arena are now two wins shy of equaling the NHL record of twenty consecutive home victories, that was set by the 1929-30 Boston Bruins and later matched by the 1975-76 Philadelphia Flyers.
In a first period that featured some sloppy play and a spirited tilt between Justin Abdelkader and Ryan Jones, it was the Wings who would strike first. Johan Franzen deflected home his twenty-first of the season and eleventh on the power play, past starter Nikolai Khabibulin to give Detroit the early lead. That was the difference in the first, as the Wings went one for one on the power play while the Oilers went zero for three and had a lengthy two man advantage. Shots on net were 5-4 for the home side, which says all that needs to be said about the visitors power play in the opening frame.
The second period saw Detroit take over the game. They seemed to have the puck throughout the middle frame and badly out shot Edmonton 15-5. They would double their lead courtesy of their fourth line, as they simply out worked the Eric Belanger line deep in the Oilers zone. After winning a puck battle against both Ryan Smyth and Belanger, Abdelkader drove hard to the net and was stopped by the Oiler netminder but hard charging Cory Emmerton would pick up the garbage and fire his sixth of the campaign past a down and out Khabibulin. It was starting to look like the old "men against boys" scnerio and Edmonton looked way out of their league. That was until a good shift from the Oilers fourth line, gave the visitors some hope.
Ben Eager nailed Dan Cleary with a clean hit that jarred open the Wings players bench door and sent the former Oiler flying into his teammates. Momentarily, Detroit lost their cool and went looking for Eager and that allowed Jeff Petry to hit a streaking Sam Gagner with a lovely stretch pass, to send the NHL's hottest player on a breakaway. Gagner briefly lost control of the puck but quickly recovered and easily beat Joey MacDonald to give the Oilers life. It was 2-1 heading into the third, in a game Edmonton had no right even being in.
They would complete the come back, when Gagner would notch his second of the night on the power play. Magnus Paajaravi drove hard to the net and was stopped by MacDonald but Gagner picked up the loose puck to even things at two. The goal was his eighth in four games and gives the twenty-two year old centre fourteen points during that time span. There was just over a eleven minutes to play and the Oilers suddenly had a chance to pull this one out. Unfortunately, that feeling didn't last long.
Just over two minutes later, Detroit would regain the lead after Khabibulin was unable to squeeze a shot from Justin Abdelkader. The puck found it's way through the veteran netminder's pads and sat in the crease until Drew Miller poked it in for his eleventh of the season. A tough break for the Oilers but a break that was well earned by the Red Wings.
The two goal cushion was restored fur minutes later, when Henrik Zetterberg fired his tenth of the season past Khabibulin. The entire sequence leading up to the insurance marker occurred because of a couple of miscues by the Oilers and sneaky move from Zetterberg. Defenceman Cam Barker lost his stick in a battle with Zetterberg but did knock the talented Swede to his knees but while trying to get up, the veteran centre managed to "slide" Barker's stick away from the blueliner, as he went to retrieve it. This freed up Zetterberg to head to the net and pick up a rebound, that the veteran puck stopper spilled into the slot, and he made no mistake putting this one to bed.
- Sam Gagner continued his torrid pace as he now sits third in team scoring with thirty-six point and trails only Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle. Sam's confidence level is at an all time high and at the moment, he can do no wrong. Even when he makes a miscue, like bobbling Petry's breakway pass, he instantly settles things down and is absolute money around the net. In the Oilers five games since the All-Star break, the trio of Hall(8), Eberle(6) and Hall(2) have scored sixteen goals while the rest of the team has four. To say Edmonton is being carried by their top line would obviously be an understatement.
- Jeff Petry logged another twenty plus minute night and was solid. It seems as though the talented blueliner has turned the page on his inconsistent play and has become a solid NHL defenceman. Petry has been one of the Oilers best D men for some time now and with each passing game, he makes fewer mistakes. His confidence level is at an all time high and the hesitation that has always hindered the twenty-four year old's play, is no longer present. It has taken some time to get to this point but Edmonton is in the process of finding one of those top four defenecmen that this club desperately needs.
- Magnus Paajarvi easily played his best game in ages and was rewarded with an assist on Gagner's second goal because he finally decided to drive to the net. He definitely looked better but he is still far from where he needs to be. There where many occasions he could have taken the puck to the blue paint last night but decided not to. Having said that, hopefully the fact that his decision led directly to an Oilers goal, will give him confidence moving forward.
- After looking alright in his first couple of games back, defencman Cam Barker has looked terrible in back-to-back contests against the Leafs and Wings. Perhaps it's because he was out for so long and rushed back into the lineup but if Barker plays like he has the last couple of nights, I would rather see Theo Peckham in on a nightly basis. I am willing to give him another week or so to find his game but he needs to be a whole lot better.
- This team has been carried for much of the season by it's kids and at the monent, they are clearly being pushed by their top line. That is why I find it curious that they very rarely get top line minutes. It's something that has plagued this team all year long but it's in games like last night, where it stands out even more. The fact that Eberle, Hall and Gagner saw less or basically the same amount of even strength ice time as Lennart Petrell, Shawn Horcoff, Belanger, Smyth, Paajarvi and Ales Hemsky, is mind boggling. If the plan is to try and not win games and secure a higher draft pick, that's fine, but don't insult your fan base by saying you are trying to win games. Have a look at the Red Wings ice time leaders on a nightly basis and you see Datsyuk and Zetterberg play twenty plus minutes because they are the teams best players. In Edmonton, those minutes are only given to the likes of Horcoff and Smyth and hence why this team continues to lose games. If this staff doesn't want to play the kids on the penalty kill, then they should be double shifted on a regualr basis and play twenty plus minutes a night and not linger somewhere between the fifteen to eighteen minutes they currently do. Hall and Eberle are thoroughbreds that can handle the extra ice time and Gagner is the hottest player in the league...so why is it that they don't play more? Anyone have an answer because it makes no sense to me.