Update (12:25 PM): The official blog reports that it's a sore groin that will keep Kris Draper out tonight. - Matt
Update (11:49 AM): Ansar Khan reports that Kris Draper will sit out tonight with an undisclosed injury. Mark Hartigan will play instead. Khan also says Dominik Hasek will back up Chris Osgood. As he points out, that means Jimmy Howard has been returned to the Griffins. - Matt
Tonight is the fourth and final meeting between the Detroit Red Wings and the Edmonton Oilers this season. The Wings lead the series 2-1 with wins wins October 8th (4-2) and October 30th (2-1). The Oilers won the December 13th meeting, 4-3 in a shootout.
Edmonton is 5-5-0 in February. They began the month with a loss at home to Dallas, 4-1, but shutout the Flames 5-0 on the 4th. Two nights later, they defeated the Blawkhawks on home ice, 4-1. The Flames got some revenge for their earlier loss by beating the Oilers in Calgary on the 9th, 4-1. The Oilers rebounded with a 4-2 win over Minnesota and a 3-2 win over San Jose on the 12th and 14th. They then dropped three straight, beginning in Vancouver (4-2), continuing in Nashville (5-4), and finishing in Dallas (5-2). On Sunday, they halted that skid with a 3-2 win over Colorado at home.
The Oilers' 61 points are good for last in the Northwest Division and 14th in the Western Conference. They are all but out of the playoffs.
According to the Freep, Edmonton will be without Ethan Moreau (tibia), Shawn Horcoff (shoulder), Sheldon Souray (labrum, biceps), Tyler Spurgeon (undisclosed), Raffi Torres (knee), and Ladislav Smid (ankle).
Horcoff is the Oilers' leading goal-scorer with 21. Dustin Penner is the active leader with 18. Ales Hemsky (15), Andrew Cogliano (10), Jarret Stoll (10), and Kyle Brodziak (10) are the only other Edmonton players to hit double digits in goals-scored. Hemsky is the points leader with 52.
It looks like the expected starter tonight is Mathieu Garon.
For the Oilers' perspective, see The Battle of Alberta, Covered in Oil, Lowetide, mc79hockey, always on the road, Black Dog Hates Skunks, Irreverent Oiler Fans, Nothing 2 See Here, Oil Country, Ontario, the real deal hockey, SportsGuru, and Talkin’ Hockey.
The Wings fell to 4-7-1 in the month of February with a 4-1 loss to Vancouver Saturday night. The loss was a continuation of a skid that began February 7th against LA and continued with losses to Toronto (OT), Anaheim, Nashville, Columbus, Dallas, and Calgary. The one bright spot over the past nine games was their 4-0 win over Colorado on the 18th, though the game had plenty of negativity to it as Nick Lidstrom went down with a knee sprain in the first period.
The easy explanation for the skid is the injury-depleted blueline, but the fact is the young defensemen called upon to fill in have played quite well. The Wings' real problem has been up front. With the exception of the Avs game, they have not been getting the necessary scoring from their forwards.
Henrik Zetterberg scored two goals against Colorado, but has just two other goals over the course of the Wings' skid (both against LA).
Mikael Samuelsson has not scored a goal since February 9th in Toronto.
Jiri Hudler is goalless in 17. His last goal game during the Wings' 3-game skid last month.
Tomas Holmstrom is goalless in 12.
Johan Franzen has two goals in the last nine games and has not scored in five.
Valtteri Filppula scored a goal against Colorado, but it was his only goal in his last 13 games.
Pavel Datsyuk has four goals over the course of the skid, but just four assists. His usual ratio is a little over twice as many assists as goals.
Of the five remaining regular Wings forwards not necessarily expected to score, Tomas Kopecky, Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby, Dallas Drake, and Aaron Downey, only Tomas Kopecky has a goal over the course of the skid (against LA).
Needless to say, the team offense that carried the Wings to 200 goals-for has not been getting the job done for most of this month. It's easy to point to the young defense as the source of the problem, given the fact that they aren't as smooth on the breakouts as Nick Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski, Chris Chelios, or Niklas Kronwall are. However, guys like Meech and Ericsson are fine puck-moving defensemen, so the drop-off isn't what it might have been. That excuse only goes so far and by this point it seems somewhat empty.
The Wings will be without Chris Chelios (leg, chipped bone) for the second full game . Garrett Stafford will get his second game in the NHL.
Niklas Kronwall (clavicle) will sit out once more. Derek Meech will continue to fill in.
Brian Rafalski (groin) also will not return. Kyle Quincey will cover for him.
Nick Lidstrom (knee sprain) is out as well. Jonathan Ericsson will play in just his third NHL game.
Dan Cleary (broken jaw) will miss his seventh straight. I expect Aaron Downey to remain in the lineup.
Projected lines (via Khan):
It'll be interesting to see if those are more than practice lines. There isn't a natural center on the fourth line, which is a bit of a problem.
We can expect better gelling between the young blueline and the forward corps tonight as the team was able to practice with everyone for the first time yesterday. According to Helene St. James, they spent time working on breakouts. That should help the offensive situation somewhat.
Chris Osgood will get the start tonight for Detroit. It's possible that Dominik Hasek (hip flexor) will be the backup.
For more of the Wings' perspective, see Snapshots, Abel to Yzerman, HockeyTownTodd, Behind the Jersey, No Pun Intended, Red Wings Nation, yzerman is god, Detroit Hockey, LetsGoWings, Red Wings Brasil, and Winging It In Motown. OklahomaWingNut’s GDT is here.
The Wings could really use a win tonight. The Oilers are injury depleted themselves and are vulnerable on paper. That said, they remain a young and speedy team that could cause the Wings fits if they aren't on top of their game. The forwards are flat out going to have to have a better game tonight than they've had lately. The young defensemen have proven to be reliable and it's time for guys like Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Tomas Holmstrom, Jiri Hudler, Valtteri Filppula, Johan Franzen and Mikael Samuelsson to back them up.