After a hard-fought game against the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday, the Detroit Red Wings didn’t start off their road trip the way they were hoping to.
However, the next matchup is a favorable one for them on paper, as they travel to Edmonton to face the lowly Oilers.
Edmonton is currently out in front for the Connor McDavid sweepstakes with the worst record in the NHL at 9-22-9 for 27 points. However, despite holding the worst record in hockey, the Oilers have secured at least a point in their last four games, including a 5-2 win against the New York Islanders on Sunday.
The Oilers are in rebuild mode, there’s no doubt about that, and that was made certain when they traded David Perron to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Rob Klinkhammer and a first-round pick, among other personnel moves made this season.
A struggling team planning for the future rather than the present is an easy trap game for the Red Wings to fall into. But, Detroit has to take advantage of these opportunities and pick up points when they can.
I’m sure everyone fondly remembers — or not so fondly remembers if you’re an Oilers fan — this neglect of defense from the preseason. Four Oilers swarm to one puck carrier on the power play, and the end result is a shorthanded goal by Nick Bonino, who was wide open in front of the net.
Obviously, this was preseason and many months ago, but with a goal differential of 47 heading into Tuesday’s game, I’m inclined to believe the defense hasn’t improved very much since that preseason game.
As much as Oilers fans may want the team to tank, confidence is likely at an all-time high right now after beating a very good Islanders team by a three-goal margin. A young team with nothing to lose is going to come out with energy, and the Red Wings have to be sure they do the same.
According to MLive.com’s Ansar Khan, Jimmy Howard will start against the Oilers, while Petr Mrazek will get the start in Calgary on Wednesday.
Babcock said no lineup changes for tomorrow in Edmonton. Howard starting. Mrazek starting Wednesday in Calgary.
— Ansar Khan (@AnsarKhanMLive) January 6, 2015
All signs point to a win for the Red Wings, as Howard sports a 10-1-2 record with a 1.87 goals-against average in 13 career games against Edmonton. However, we’ve seen the Red Wings play down to their opponents this season — most notably, the Buffalo Sabres and the Florida Panthers.
It’s vitally important for the Red Wings to get off to a strong start against the Oilers since it is the front end of a back-to-back. By the time the third period rolls around in Calgary on Wednesday, Detroit will be gasping for air. Securing three points during these two games would be a win in my book and a good way to rebound from a tough loss in Vancouver.
Hot and Cold Streaks
Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist have been leading the charge for the Red Wings as of late. Tatar scored the lone goal in the loss to the Canucks and has four points in his last five games. Nyquist had an assist on Tatar’s goal in Vancouver, and he has seven points in his past five games.
The kids have aided Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg in the scoring efforts, but not all of the kids have gotten on board. Tomas Jurco, after scoring 15 points in 36 games last year, has 12 points in 36 games this year. The biggest difference? This year, Jurco is shooting 3.2 percent compared to 10.4 percent last year.
And it’s not that he’s shooting more. Quite the opposite. Jurco had 77 shots last year compared to 63 this season.
Riley Sheahan is another youngster who has struggled as of late. He is pointless in his last five games.
Both of these guys are in just their first full season with the Red Wings, but a favorable matchup against a poor defensive team could be just what they need to get their offensive games going again.
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Tom Mitsos is a Detroit Red Wings and Grand Rapids Griffins staff writer for The Hockey Writers. You can follow him on Twitter @tom_mitsos.
Tom Mitsos is a writer from Michigan who covers the Red Wings and the Red Wings’ AHL affiliate, the Grand Rapids Griffins, for The Hockey Writers.