NHL Preview: Detroit Red Wings vs. Edmonton Oilers

By brianpalmer
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Qu-qu-questions! That’s what faces the Edmonton Oilers (4-3-3) as they prepare for their matchup with the Detroit Red Wings (5-4-1). Among them are:

–Will Eric Belanger be ready to play or will he wait until Sunday to return?
–Is it wise for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to be coming back from his shoulder injury so soon? Is he really ready?
–Whom will the Oilers put at center behind Sam Gagner and RNH for Saturday’s matchup, now that Anton Lander and Shawn Horcoff are expected to miss at least a month with their injuries?
–Will Ben Eager or Mark Fistric be able to return for this game, or will they both wait until Sunday’s tilt against the Columbus Blue Jackets?
–With this being the first of a back-to-back, will the Oilers go with Devan Dubnyk against Detroit before giving Nikolai Khabibulin his first start of the season on Sunday? Or vice versa?
–Can they finally break their losing streak, which currently stands at four games, and maintain their precarious hold on the eighth seed in the playoff standings (it feels strange to be talking about playoff seedings at the quarter-season mark, but it is February after all.)?
–With all their power play prowess and vaunted young talented, they rank 22nd in the league in scoring, so what gives?

The Red Wings are not without questions themselves, however:

–How long can they keep winning with a subpar Jimmy Howard in net and no reliable backups in tow?
Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Johan Franzen, Niklas Kronwall, Valtteri Filppula and Damien Brunner have been stellar, but when are they going to get some help?
–When are their special teams–26th on the power play (12%) and 29th on the penalty kill (69.6%)–going to wake up?

Both squads have been decimated by injuries lately and neither team has really gotten into a groove this season. Outside of Gagner’s ten-game point streak, much of the Oilers’ roster has had an up-and-down start and has not performed the way fans had hoped they would. Being fourth in the NHL on the power play (28.3%) and seventh on the penalty kill (87.2%) might be a boon to their chances of ending their four-game slide, but the experience of the Red Wings can never be overlooked, even during a “down year” that has seen them slide to fourth in the Central Division despite being seventh in the playoff standings.

This is the first time the Oilers have gone three days between games this season, so perhaps with a bit more rest and a couple key players returning they can break back into the win column. But if they can’t there is going to be a huge cause for concern as the team moves forward because while they are in eighth place in the playoff standings right now, they are only three points from being tied for last, so things could turn south for the team real fast if they don’t get their act together soon.

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