Tonight the Oilers took to the ice in Detroit against the best team in the NHL. In addition to sitting atop the NHL standings the Red Wings are also one of the best home teams and are currently on a franchise record 17 game home winning streak. The Oilers, for those who have forgotten, are not one of best teams in the NHL and are not very good when playing on the road. To say that tonight's game was a mismatch would be an understatement.
And the Oilers did little to make the game any closer in reality than it appeared to be on paper. They were outshot 30-17 and outchanced 17-11. The Wings dominated the play and kept the Oilers hemmed in their own end for long stretches of time. In fact, if not for some good goaltending from Nikolai Khabibulin early on the Oilers wouldn't have been close enough to tie the game in the third period so bad goaltending from Khabibulin could help seal a 4-2 the win for the WIngs; their 18th in a row on home ice. The Oilers haven't won more than 18 home games in a season since 2007/08.
A solid open ice hit on Ian White from the Oilers newest fourth liner Ryan Jones resulted in a rare sight for Detroit hockey fans, a fight. Justin Abdelkader came right at Jones but didn't look as if he was planning to fight but and Jones didn't give him a choice immediately dropping his gloves. In the fight Jones landed the best punch, hitting Abdelkader square in the visor. Given the Oilers injury history a broken hand seemed like the only logical outcome.
The Oilers did end up with the man advantage following the fight as Abdelkader was awarded a minor for cross checking. The Oilers wouldn't generate any pressure or scoring chance though and shortly after the penalty expired the Wings began to control the game. First on a two-on-one rush Todd Bertuzzi put the puck through Nikolai Khabibulin but managed to miss the net. Then another flurry of activity in the Oilers zone led to an Eric Belanger holding penalty. The Wings, unlike the Oilers, looked very good with the man advantage and Johan Franzen would deflect an point shot from Ian White to give the Wings the lead.
Before the first period ended the Oilers had a great chance to tie the game at one when Cory Emmerton and Brad Stuart both ended up in the penalty box giving the Oilers 1:14 worth of five-on-three time. With two extra men out there the Oilers were slightly better than they had been on their previous power play but not by much. How bad was the power play? The Oilers managed just a single scoring chances and Dan Cleary registered the only shot on goal during the two man advantage.
Emmerton would again find himself on the score sheet early in the second period with a goal that extended the Red Wings lead to two. Abdelkader did the hard work on the play digging the puck out of the corner with the help of Cleary and then attacked the net from below the goal line. Khabibulin would turn away the Abdelkader shot but Emmerton was there ready to bang home the rebound.
With the Red WIngs dominating the play for the last half of the first period and the first part of the second, the Oilers went more than 20 minutes without even getting a shot on goal. Already down two goals and with the outlook bleak, enter the team's hero Sam Gagner. Sprung for a clean breakaway from the blue line in thanks to a pass from Ryan Jones from inside the Oilers blue line, Gagner had the puck bounce on him and almost lost control but was still able to his backhand attempt over Joey MacDonald's blocker cutting the Wings lead in half. For those keeping track at home that would be point 20 for Gagner since the calendars turned to 2012.
After killing a penalty to start the game's final period the Oilers once again found themselves on the power play looking to tie the game at two despite being grossly outshot to this point. On that power play Magnus Paajarvi, in his first game back from Oklahoma City, made a tremendous play coming from behind the net and getting the puck to the net. If not for the quick pad of MacDonald would have had his first goal of the season. Instead Gagner was there to collect the rebound and score his second goal of the season. For those counting at home that would be Gagner's eighth goal in his last four games.
But the tie game wouldn't last long with the Red Wings retaking the lead two minutes later. Khabibulin got a piece of an Abdelkader shot but the puck squeezed through his pads at sat behind him just waiting to be tapped in, Drew Miller was more than happy to oblige. Another iffy play from Khabibulin, one where he failed to hold onto a puck that hit him in the glove, shortly after the Red WIngs third goal would end up briefly on Henrik Zetterberg's stick before finding its way to the back of the Oilers net restoring the two goal lead for the home team with just over five minutes to play.
The Oilers would get another power play, and would pull their goalie with almost two minutes remaining in an effort to cut into the Detroit lead but in the end getting dominated in every aspect of the game proved to be something that the Oilers just could not over come. Even with a little more magic from Sam Gagner.