The Red Wings came into tonight’s contest trying to shake off their last three awful outings in which they gave up 5 goals in each game. Not only had they been giving up goals at a high rate, the offensive attack had sputtered only scoring a combined 4 goals in the three games. The Wings have been under siege on all fronts and need to right the ship quickly.
Detroit’s opponent tonight, Edmonton, has been off to an incredible start to their season with a surprising 6-1 record. They have been piling goals up at a 4.0 goals/game clip. They are of course led by the world’s best player in Connor McDavid, who even by his lofty standards, is off to a ridiculous start with 17 points in 7 games. Leon Draisaitl is not far behind with 15 points of his own.
Between the pipes for Oilers tonight was Mikko Koskinen for the Oilers who faced a ton of rubber against the Flyers on Wednesday making 49 saves. Koskinen had a 3-0 start to his season with a 2.59 GAA and impressive .927 SV%. For Detroit, Jonathan Bernier returns to the crease hoping to improve on his 3.33 GAA and .888 SV% to start the season.
This west coast swing has not been kind to the Wings and the hope coming in to the night was to end the trip on a high note against the surging Oilers. Was Detroit able to put out the growing tire fire of the last week or were they just pouring “oil” on those flames?
The Wings opened with a Bertuzzi, Filppula, Athanasiou combination up front, and Edmonton countered with the Nugent-Hopkins line. The first attempt went to Edmonton with a one time shot on a pass from low to the top of the right circle in front of Bernier who was out at the top of the crease to steer the shot away. Detroit’s top line combination for tonight was once again Helm, Larkin, and Mantha, at least to start. Perhaps a bit of a surprise, Cholowski was scratched tonight.
Just over 3:00 into this one James Neal made a move through the centre of the ice crossing over the offensive blue line with two or three Red Wings closing in on him. Despite being out-manned Neal managed to draw a hooking call on De la Rose to get the Oilers an early powerplay chance. The Oilers got a few good looks early in the powerplay including a couple attempts by Draisaitl and a play off Hronek’s skate to Neal where he fired a puck off the post from less than 5 feet away to Bernier’s right. The Wings managed to kill the rest of the powerplay without giving up another chance. Just after the penalty to De la Rose finished, Kassian crashed the net and landed on top of Bernier, resulting in a whistle but not a penalty.
Coming back from the first TV timeout we got a brief glimpse at Ken Holland being honoured by the Oilers, hi Kenny! It was the Wings fourth line that got the play tilted back towards the Oilers end with a good shift and a pair of shot attempts while keeping the puck in the Edmonton end. Jurco reintroduced himself to his old mates with a snow shower for Bernier. On the ensuing faceoff the puck was chipped out to centre where Athanasiou won a foot race and tried to make a power move to the net on his off wing side and settled for a backhand shot from Koskinen’s left that the goaltender caught enough of with his shoulder to steer it to the corner.
Around the halfway mark of the period it was apparent Blashill had seen enough of the forward lines already and reunited Bertuzzi with Larkin and Mantha. Chiasson received a pass down the left side at the offensive blue line with a step on Green and made a strong drive to the net, but Bernier calmly blocked the attempt away. On the following sequence, Larkin took off on a rush before pulling up across the tops of the circles and tried to test Koskinen through traffic but put it right in his belly. Hronek did the same with a shot from the blue line off the following faceoff. It was Edmonton then with another chance where on a harmless looking rush by Russell, a shot that may have deflected off Green’s stick, caught the crossbar behind Bernier but stayed out.
The shot attempts were 24-13 at this point in favour of Edmonton with 6:00 to play. Athanasiou managed a 2 on 1 opportunity with Filppula shortly after where AA kept the puck on the play and leaned into a wrist shot from just beyond the hash marks that Koskinen made the save on.
Late in the period on a misplay by a defender behind Detroit’s net Edmonton was nearly able to capitalise by reversing the puck back the other way as Bernier had to stretch out to get to the post in time. But following the shot attempt Glendening picked up the puck in front of Bernier and flipped a high lob pass to a streaking Athanasiou who broke in on Koskinen and made a move to the forehand side but Koskinen extended his pad to make the save. Athansiou did draw a penalty on the play though and the Wings went to work on the man advantage at the end of the period. The best look was a Athansiou low shot through the crease area looking for a Bertuzzi deflection that didn’t connect. Filppula got the last shot of the period with an attempt from the right side dot but again Koskinen got out to the top of his crease to make the save.
The shots to end the period were 14-13 Edmonton in a period where the shot totals were high but the scoring opportunities were not. A couple decent looks for each team but not an end to end affair. Athanasiou did look dangerous in the first frame with a couple chances using his speed and a total of 3 shots, hopefully looking to break the door open on his early season slump soon. The Wings were also lucky with Edmonton catching a couple posts. Hronek played a whopping 8:07 in the first period. The Wings blocked 11 shots in the opening period, so despite the even shot totals, the play was probably carried a bit by the Oilers.
Just before dropping the puck for the 2nd period, we got a brief look at an interview done earlier in the day with Ken Holland. Definitely a pull at the heart strings as we got to see Ozzie react on air to Holland describing him as another son, get the tissues.
The Wings weren’t able to do anything with what was left of the powerplay carrying into the period. Justin Abdelkader got a good chance just over 3:00 into the period when he knocked down a clearing attempt by Nurse up the wall near the blue line. Abby walked into the slot and wound up for a shot from between the hash marks and fired it just wide going back against the grain to Koskinen’s left. Edmonton had the next strong chance when Nugent-Hopkins absolutely made Green look silly on a toe drag before dropping the puck to Neal who tried to beat Bernier five-hole but Bernier was able to seal the door. A line of Filppula, Athanasiou, and Glendening was able to get some of the best sustained pressure for Detroit. Athanasiou just missed Daley with a pass who slid down into the slot on the play, but despite the pressure Detroit didn’t get a scoring chance on the sequence.
A couple shifts later Mantha received the puck with some space coming down the right side and fired a shot low to the short side that Koskinen deflected with his pad. As the game approached the midway point the Oilers gathered possession and worked it to Nurse at the left point. He put a shot towards the net low to the right side that was redirected back to the left side with Bernier able to make the save, but the rebound was left trickling into the slot where Neal pounced on it first after dumping DeKeyser who was attempting to tie him up on the initial point shot. With nobody able to put a stick on him Neal was able to fire the puck in as Bernier tried to recover after making the first save, 1-0 Oilers.
Moments after the goal, Klefbom gathered the puck behind his own net and sent a long pass to a stationary McDavid at the far blue line who neatly deflected it past the closest Wings defender Bowey, to a streaking Draisaitl on a set play that sent the German forward in alone, where he put a shot off the post on the far side. McDavid was heating up in this period after being kept mostly quiet in the first. He and Draisaitl had a 2 on 1 chance after Mantha lost control of the puck at the top of the offensive zone. On the rush, Draisaitl’s pass attempt through the crease area just missed McDavid for the redirect. But on the same play, the Oilers got possession and once again worked it to the point where Bear sent a shot towards the net from the blue line at the right boards. With lots of traffic in front including Kassian, the puck crept through and found a way to the back of the net, 2-0 Oilers.
Hard to point out any obvious miscue by the Wings on the play other than the initial turnover in the offensive end, as the shot was of the seeing eye type that just finds a way through and the Wings had the Oiler sticks tied up out front.
With 6:05 to play and after the Oilers spent an entire shift in the Wings end, Daley was caught holding Khaira and sent Edmonton to a powerplay. The Wings did a good job on the penalty kill early as they kept the Oilers to the outside and blocked a couple attempts before clearing the puck. McDavid tried to sneak a puck through the crease area to Nugent-Hopkins on the far side but the Wings prevented him from getting a clean shot off. Detroit killed off the Daley penalty and then went to work in the offensive end with a shift of sustained pressure featuring the top line with Green and Bowey on the blue line. After retrieving a puck, Bertuzzi hit Green with a pass at the top of the zone. Green walked it across the top of the circles and put a wrist shot towards the goal that deflected off of former Red Wing Riley Sheahan and ricocheted to the opposite corner from the original shot trajectory and beat Koskinen, 2-1.
With 1:30 to play Nielsen received a pass at the left boards entering the Oilers zone. He tried to hit Hirose who had beaten his man to the front of the net but the pass was just a bit too high and deep for him to get to it. The Wings finished with a couple good rushes after what was a generally a brutal period.
The Wings were out-shot 15-6 in the period and were on their heels for the most part, lucky to be down only 2-1. There wasn’t a lot of bright spots in the period for Detroit other than perhaps still keeping McDavid off of the scoresheet to that point.
Bernier came up with a big save early in the 3rd when Nugent-Hopkins approached down the right side and tried to beat him with a low shot to the far side. Bernier had to come up big again when McDavid made a drive to the net from the right side circle, bulling Hronek out of the way with his combination of speed and strength. Bernier slid across the crease to match McDavid’s cut across and came up with the save.
Despite the Wings being the team down by a goal it was Edmonton with the offensive push through the first several minutes of the 3rd period. The Wings didn’t register a shot in the period until there was 11:30 left. At one point DeKeyser was forced to absorb a big hit from Kassian while making a play on a puck behind Bernier, but stayed on after the hit. After a snail pace to start to the period, the game started to once again gain some speed as it entered the final 10:00. After Mantha and DeKeyser traded off positions at the point, it was Mantha who sent a shot from the point with DeKeyser trying to deflect it. This attempt led to the best pressure of the game for the Wings with the Larkin line working the puck around the Oilers zone for over a minute. But despite the great pressure the Wings never got a good scoring opportunity during the sequence.
Detroit had a good chance with 6:00 left when Daley received a pass just to Koskinen’s left but didn’t get enough on his shot low to the far side and Koskinen was able to kick his pad out to make the save.
The Wings push to tie was finally on starting with the aforementioned shift by the Larkin line. On a shift with just over 2:00 to play Larkin came close to tying the game twice, first after receiving a pass from Hronek and then cutting out across the high slot and firing a shot low to the blocker side that Koskinen got a piece of. Then moments later, taking a shot from the left point that hit the post and went wide. Just after the puck rung off the post, Howard was pulled for the extra attacker. Larkin then got another shot off that Koskinen swallowed up to get a stoppage. The Wings called a timeout to get their big guns a breather with 1:40 to play. Unfortunately, the Wings were never able to establish possession in the Oilers zone again after the timeout with Edmonton steering away each attempt to enter the zone. With 0:30 to play the Oilers had a bit of an embarrassing gaffe when twice they missed the empty net from within the Detroit zone. But the Wings did not have enough time left to make them pay for the miscue with the final buzzer sounding shortly after, final score 2-1 Oilers.
Despite the tight score, the Red Wings were never really all that close in this one as Edmonton shut them down in the third and carried the play otherwise for the most part of the game. On the plus side, Detroit somehow kept McDavid pointless, and kept Draisaitl to a single assist. The game was about as good as can be hoped for defensively, still giving up 37 shots, but limiting the chances somewhat. Bernier was solid throughout making several key stops to keep this game within reach. Offensively, once again it was the Larkin line generating most of the noteworthy chances, except for a couple off the stick of Athanasiou in the first period. He disappeared after that. It’s early but Hirose continues to disappoint on his promising stint last season. He was barely noticed on the ice, hopefully he and the rest of the middle six can start making something happen soon.
Considering the disaster that was the last three games, Detroit was much improved in this one but still has a ways to go to give themselves chances in these games. If they can match the defensive performance with some improvement offensively they will certainly improve their chances. They have until Tuesday now to recover and adjust following the tough west coast road trip this week, when they will host the Vancouver Canucks.