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Very belated Red Wings-Oilers game-day updates: no lineup changes, much to Ian White’s chagrin

Updated at 4:24 PM: The Detroit Red Wings and Edmonton Oilers will face off tonight at Joe Louis Arena (7:30 PM EST, FSD/Sportsnet West/97.1 FM), and while I was playing chaufeur and Paul was filling in:

MLive's Ansar Khan reported that the Wings would make no changes to their lineup;

ESPN's Pierre LeBrun and Scott Burnside suggested that Niklas Kronwall is having a Norris Trophy-contending season;

And Ian White all but demanded a trade.

The Edmonton Journal's Joanne Ireland provides us with a morning skate update which discusses both Wings and Oilers personnel machinations...

Mike Babcock, the head coach of the Detroit Red Wings, is a stickler about details so despite a 2-1 victory over the Colorado Avalanche in his club’s last outing, he expects more against the Edmonton Oilers. In short, don’t expect anything less than a disciplined Detroit squad, which of course means an even tougher challenge for the Oilers who haven’t won in Joe Louis Arena since Dec. 3, 2009.

“We’ve played way better and lost,” Babcock said Thursday morning. “To me, the way this team has to play is real simple. We can’t outscore our mistakes. We’re not talented enough as a group to play river hockey all night and expect to win on a nightly basis. That’s just the facts.”

The Oilers, 1-2-2 since leaving Edmonton, will send a lineup similar to the one that was on the ice for a 4-3 shootout loss against the Columbus Blue Jackets. The one change will be in the bottom six, with Ben Eager coming out of the lineup and Chris VandeVelde returning to centre. Ryan Smyth will move back to the wing.

“Detroit is not a very physical team but they are a very deep, well versed hockey team,” said head coach Ralph Krueger. “We just feel with the back to backs we need four solid lines going. It’s not about the line combinations as much as it is about our habits. The willingness to give up the puck to create opportunities . . . is something we’re continuing to work on. We want puck possession. We just need to be a little smarter and create more chaos in front of the net. This is a team that does a lot of things habitually we’d like to do . . . but we have to match their work ethic.”

EdmontonOilers.com's Mark Ciampa offered a morning skate report which includes more talk from Krueger...

Krueger pointed out what one of the big keys to defeating the Red Wings was.

"We want puck possession. We need to make it a little smarter and also create more chaos at other teams' nets," said the coach, adding that line adjustments sometimes have to do more with helping build team cohesion. "The way we move these forwards around, sometimes it just has to do with refreshment for players, let them see other people, and the skill level remains equally high whatever combination we put there."

And a focus on the Oilers' excitement about playing the Wings...

"It's always a special opportunity for players to play against the Red Wings, with the tradition here in the last decade especially. We know this is a team that has done a lot of things habitually that we would like to do eventually but we've got to match the work ethic that they have -- that's going to be critical here."

Last time the Oilers were in Detroit they lost a close 2-1 contest.

"We played them pretty equal. It was a crazy 17 power play game, which I don't expect today, but we were even on chances. They had a few more shots. It was a 30-24 shot game. Building on that good experience in Detroit last time, we'd like to take it to another level today. Of course, being ready in Detroit is not a difficult thing. It's something you can feel in the air already, the excitement of this game."

The game has a little bit extra meaning for Oilers defencemen Corey Potter and Jeff Petry who both grew up in Michigan.

"It's not too often that you get to play in front of your family and it's a good time to come down and watch you play. They'll be pretty excited to see me out there," said Potter, who expects six or seven friends and family members in the crowd.

...

"They always have a good team," Petry continued. "They can't score from their own end so we need to have as much offensive time as possible and don't give them any space. They have some guys up front if you give them space and give them time they can make some special plays."

The Oilers' website's posted a game preview video...

 


As well as clips of Oilers coach Ralph Krueger, defenseman Jeff Petry, forwards Sam Ganger and Corey Potter, and Wings forward Danny Cleary addressing tonight's game...

The Windsor Star's Bob Duff posted a clip of Joakim Andersson speaking to the press...

And Duff penned a split pre-game notebook, speaking to both former Windsor Spitfire Taylor Hall and Andersson:

While the Oilers move from hotel to hotel, Red Wings rookie centre Joakim Andersson also finds himself situated in a downtown Detroit, but feeling more at home with each passing day.

Called up from AHL Grand Rapids Feb. 8 in time for Detroit’s last game against the Oilers, Andersson will suit up for his 14th game of the season Thursday and is starting to feel like he belongs in the Red Wings’ dressing room.

“After a month, I’m starting to get used to everything – the facilities, all of the teammates and the coaches,” Andersson said. “For sure it’s more familiar than it was a month ago. I hope I can stay here longer so that it will be a real home.”

He’s even started to venture out and see some of the sights. Wednesday, Andersson and his girlfriend took in the Detroit Zoo.

“We just needed to get out of the hotel, get some fresh air and walk around,” Andersson said.

Via RedWingsFeed, DetroitRedWings.com's Bill Roose spoke to Andersson--and Patrick Eaves--about both Andersson's attempts to get to know Metro Detroit while staying at the Book Cadillac hotel, as well as his on-ice performance:

“He’s a big man that can skate and he’s responsible defensively,” said Patrick Eaves, who along with rookie Tomas Tatar skate on the fourth line with Andersson. “That makes it really easy to play with, and then his skill level is awesome. He can move to the middle and get the puck out (to) the sides to Tuna and I who have speed. He’s been a joy to play with.”

Not known as a big play-maker, Andersson could stand to be more physical as a checking center, but his skill in the face-off circle has benefited the fourth line, Eaves said.

“I believe he’s above average in the face-off circle. So we start with the puck a lot, which is nice,” Eaves said. “He’s come up to this level and has been above average right away. It helps us out a lot so we can jump on the offensive side knowing that he has a good shot of winning that.”

The 24-year-old Andersson had 10 goals and 17 assists in 36 games with the Griffins before he was called up after Bertuzzi began to experience debilitating back pain last month. Puck-possession is huge for the Wings, so coach Mike Babcock has been impressed by Andersson, who has won 46-of-91 draws (50.5 percent) in 13 games.

“I think he's been real good and effective,” Babcock said. “Now, I went through every single one of Andy's shifts just to be sure. He's a smart guy; we talked to him and try to help him, but he's got seriously good hockey sense, knows how to play with and without the puck. It's just pace with him. That's the biggest issue.”

Eventually learning the tendencies of the league’s centermen will also help Andersson’s development.

“I get thrown out (of the faceoff circle) a lot more here than I did in the American League,” Andersson said. “That’s probably up to me to figure the timing against the other guys that I’m taking the draws against, and maybe the referees are a little different too. I have to figure that out so I don’t get thrown out too much.”

In terms of non-White-related Wings news, MLive's Ansar Khan reported that the Wings will be making no changes to their lineup, though Babcock wasn't happy with the way the Wings played against Colorado...

“We gave up too many chances last game and got away from how we've been playing and can't continue to do that and win,'' Babcock said. “So we got to get back to the details of our game without the puck and continue to be hard on the other team's goalie and D.''

But, he is happy that the team is 4-1-1 in its past six games.

“I'm not trying to take anything away from our team. We've done a real good job,'' Babcock said. “It's just when you leave the game last game, everyone tells you how good your team played. I do the scoring chances, I know. We've played way better and lost. The way this team has to play is real simple. We have to be good defensively. We can't outscore our mistakes. We're not talented enough as a group to play river hockey all night and expect you're going to win on a nightly basis.''

Babcock said there will be no lineup changes tonight. Here are the anticipated line combinations and defense pairings:

Johan Franzen-Henrik Zetterberg-Damien Brunner

Justin Abdelkader-Pavel Datsyuk-Daniel Cleary

Tomas Tatar-Joakim Andersson-Patrick Eaves

Drew Miller-Cory Emmerton-Jordin Tootoo

Niklas Kronwall-Jonathan Ericsson

Kyle Quincey-Brendan Smith

Brian Lashoff-Jakub Kindl

Jimmy Howard (starting)

Jonas Gustavsson

And Khan reported good news about Valtteri Filppula:

Forward Valtteri Filppula (left shoulder) skated with the team Thursday morning and said he doesn't expect to play this weekend's games against Columbus (Saturday-Sunday), but should be back next week.

“I feel better, definitely,'' Filppula said. "I'm able to shoot a little bit now, and skating feels good.''

Center Darren Helm (back) has skated the past four days, joining the team on the ice for the first time today, albeit briefly. There is no time frame for his return.

The Red Wings' Game Day Blog posted Ken Kal's Keys to the Game...

Continue To Play Well Defensively - The Red Wings are getting solid goaltending plus they're playing well in front of their netminders, allowing just 5 goals in their last 4 games. Detroit hasn't allowed a goal in the first two periods of their last four games, and they need to try to repeat that tonight and limit the fresh legs of Edmonton early.

Find Ways To Score - The last four games that the Red Wings have played in were decided by just one goal. They were all 2-1 games. Simply put, Detroit needs to find the back of the net. Bear down on scoring chances and deliver on the Power Play when they get the opportunity.

Limit Edmonton's Speed - The Oilers are a fast team and they generate their speed in the neutral zone. Take away their time and space. Try not to get into a track meet with them, because a north-south game can quickly turn south against a team like Edmonton.

A historical note...

On This Day in Red Wings History:

On March 7, 1996: The entire nation is abuzz about Chris Osgood scoring a goal against the Hartford Whalers, becoming only the second goalie in NHL history to shoot and score the previous night.

On March 7, 1964: Alex Delvecchio scores his 20th goal for the fourth consecutive season in an Original Six matchup against the Maple Leafs.

And some quips and quotes...


"They have real good specialty teams and significant skill level, so we got to not worry about them, we got to worry about the way we play… got to get back to the details of our game without the puck and continue to be hard on the other team's goal and D.” - Mike Babcock

"I think we’ve been solid in the back. We’ve divided up the ice-time a little more with this six D here and I think as a D unit we’ve all been playing better. Me and Kronner work well together and that’s partly why it’s been working well for me.” - Jonathan Ericsson

Ian White will again be a healthy scratch tonight.

"We’ve been playing pretty solid defensively, not letting in too many goals, so it's tough to change the defense up… I'm confident I can contribute. I'm sure, from speaking with them, they made it clear they want to keep me around” - Ian White

Kent Huskins is expected to be a healthy scratch tonight.
 

Valtteri Filppula is out tonight with an upper-body injury.

"They see a little bit of something with the AC (joint), nothing major." - Valtteri FIlppula

"He’s very easy to play with, which is awesome. He’s a big man that can skate and he’s responsible defensively. That makes it really easy to play with, and then his skill level is awesome." - Patrick Eaves on Joakim Andersson

"We enjoy playing on the same line with each other, and I know we enjoy it off of the ice hanging around the locker room. Both (Tatar and Andersson) are great people and I just enjoy playing with them."- Patrick Eaves

The Wings' website also posted a game-day preview video...

As well as Babcock's morning presser...

 

And the Wings and Oilers' radio play-by-play men played triva exchanges via Twitter:

And the Detroit News's Ted Kulfan also offered an update regarding Filppula, who believes he'll return next week, when the Wings play Calgary, Edmonton and then Vancouver onext Wednesday/Friday/Saturday...

"That's more of a reality," Filppula said. "Hopefully by then I'll be back playing. I skated on my own (Wednesday) and today was the first time with the team. I was pretty happy about that. It was good to be back. Definitely I felt better. I was able to shoot a little bit and the skating felt good.

But the main topic of his report involved White's...Unusual comments:

Thursday's game against Edmonton will be the fifth consecutive game Red Wings defenseman Ian White will be a healthy scratch. It wasn't easy to sit out the first of those games, and it hasn't gotten easier lately. White has met with both general manager Ken Holland and coach Mike Babcock to get an idea of where things stand. White didn't ask for a trade when talking to Holland but does wonder about his future with the Red Wings.

"We're not there (asking for a trade) yet," White said. "I was just voicing this is game five and you can play so many games in a condensed period and it (the schedule) can get away from you pretty quickly. After the weekend here (coming up), that's seven straight games if you don't play. We have (defenseman Carlo) Colaiacovo coming back right away and I just wanted a determination of where he (Babcock) thinks you fit and where Kenny thinks you fit, now and going forward as well,"

White is an unrestricted free agent after this season. His cap hit this year is $2.875 million.

"From speaking with them, they're clear they want to keep me around," White said. "You just hope by keeping around it means putting you in the lineup, and hopefully get back in soon and forget about this."

White told MLive's Ansar Khan that he's not happy with his situation...

“We've been playing pretty solid defensively, not letting in too many goals, so it's tough to change the defense up,'' White said.

White, 28, is not accustomed to being the odd-man out. He played on the top pairing with Nicklas Lidstrom most of last season, after signing a two-year, $5.75 million free-agent contract on July 2, 2011. White has played more games (492) than anyone on Detroit's defense.

“You got to come to the rink and be a good teammate; can't put yourself above the team and be pouting and moping around here,'' White said. “That doesn't do anyone any favors. Just try to stay positive, there's more to life than just hockey. You got your family at home to worry about. But, it's really a frustrating time.'...
 

“It's a little bittersweet because you want to be with the guys when they're playing well,'' White said. “When they're playing well, you seem to play well, too. So it's frustrating all around, but usually there's some sort of reasoning behind it that helps make it more understandable.''

All he can do is skate hard after practices and be ready when he's called upon.

“The one thing you kind of lose a little bit is your timing. Even your hands a little bit,'' White said. “More than anything, just mentally you got to stay positive. Times like this you question your abilities. You can't do that. You got to stay true to yourself. You know you've had success in the past, you know how to play the game. When you do get that next opportunity, you got to go back to playing the way you know how.''

And he continued while speaking to the Free Press's Carlos Monarrez...

“No, we’re not there yet. We’re not there yet,” White said of trade talk after today's morning skate. “But I was just voicing this is game five, and you play so many games in such a fast period that it can get away from you pretty quick. You look, after the weekend, it’ll be seven straight games if you don’t play. And for (Babcock's) sake, where do I fit? And for him, we have (Carlo) Colaiacovo coming back right away, too. So you just try to get a determination of where (Babcock) thinks you fit and where Ken thinks you fit -- now and going forward, as well.”

White, who was Nicklas Lidstrom's partner on the top defensive pairing last year, has gone from enjoying the limelight to fending off the pall cast by his lack of playing time and concern about losing his sharpness.

“Just mentally, you’ve got to stay positive,” White said. “Times like this, you question your abilities. You can’t do that. You’ve got to stay true to yourself. You’ve had success in the past, you know how to play the game. When you do get that next opportunity, you’ve just got to go back to playing the way you know how.”

While White remains certain of his ability, he is entirely uncertain about when he will be able to display it again.

“I’m confident I can contribute,” he said. “I’m sure, from speaking with them, they’ve made it clear they want to keep me around. I just hope by keeping me around means putting me in the lineup. Hopefully, I get back in soon, and I forget about this.”

And the Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness:

“I talked to Mike two days ago, just asking what it’s going to take to get back in the lineup,” White said. “The way it went was after the Vancouver game we won two in a row at home and went to L.A. They have fairly big forwards, so they figured they’re going to throw all the biggest D we have against them. We ended up playing pretty well defensively, gave up that last goal, but overall played a pretty good game. And then went to San Jose and other pretty big group and only gave up one. Come home and played Chicago, similar story, played sound defensively and again the day before, didn’t allow a goal until the end. So it’s pretty hard to change the lineup when you’re letting in one goal a game.”

Heading into Thursday’s game, the Wings had allowed just five goals in the last four games, all with White as a healthy scratch.

“From talking to the coach, what it’s going to take is a poor defensive game,” White said when asked what it will take for him to get back in the lineup. “We’ve been playing pretty solid defensively, not letting in too many goals, so it’s tough to change the defense up. So that’s what it’s going to take for me to get in, or an injury. In terms of trying to stick with it and how I deal with it, you’ve got to come to the rink and be a good teammate, can’t put yourself above the team and be pouting and moping around here,” White continued. “That doesn’t do anyone any favors. Just try to stay positive, there’s more to life than just hockey, too. You’ve got your family at home to worry about. So there are lots of things on the go other than this. But it’s really a frustrating time.”

White says it's not easy for him to sit out:

“You can skate, that keeps your conditioning up as much as you can for games,” White said. “Obviously, in games everything changes. The intensity is up more and your adrenaline is flowing a little bit. The one thing you kind of lose a little bit is your timing. Even your hands a little bit. It’s one thing to stick-handle in practice and do stuff there, but it’s usually not the same pace as the game.

“More than anything just mentally you’ve got to stay positive,” White added. “Times like this you question your abilities. You can’t do that. You’ve got to stay true to yourself, you know you’ve had success in the past, you know how to play the game. When you do get that next opportunity you’ve got to go back to playing the way you know how.”

As for the Kronwall Norris Pick, here's what ESPN's Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun had to say...

Norris Trophy (defensive player)

Burnside's pick: Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins

Definite changing of the guard at least at the midpoint of the season when it comes to evaluating the game's best defenseman. Kris Letang has emerged as a workhorse along a Penguins blue line that has its fair share of up-and-down moments. Still, Letang is a plus player who logs more ice time than any other defenseman in the Eastern Conference outside of Dion Phaneuf of Toronto (we don't count the injured Erik Karlsson). Letang also leads all defensemen in point production. Letang, who observers believe hasn't hit his full stride yet, plays a much different game than Niklas Kronwall of Detroit, who might be Letang's main competition for the Norris at this point of the season given the evolution of Kronwall's offensive game. Not to be forgotten is the underappreciated Oliver Ekman-Larsson of the Phoenix Coyotes, who might be one of the game's smartest defenders. Slowly but surely, Ryan Suter is rounding into form in Minnesota, and the Wild have crept up the standings to challenge for the Northwest Division lead as he has played better (he leads the NHL in average ice time per game). Still, at the halfway point, Letang would edge out his competition in our books.

LeBrun's pick: Niklas Kronwall, Detroit Red Wings

Kind of amazing when you have a list that doesn't include Shea Weber or Drew Doughty, but I think it's only a matter of time over the last half of the season that those guys will find their way into the conversation. Both players are playing much better since early-season struggles. For me, it came down to Kronwall and Letang for the midseason award. I chose the Red Wings veteran because, on a blue line that lost Nicklas Lidstrom and Brad Stuart and is trying to survive committee-style, Kronwall has had to do even more and has elevated his game in doing so. He is playing 24 minutes a game and is among the defenseman scoring leaders, and everyone knows about his physical play. I think he deserves the nod right now.

And it's worth noting that the following players were included in ESPN's Craig Custance's Insider-only blog as "The Top 20 Rental Players"

7. D Mark Streit, Islanders
Contract: $4.1 million

The Islanders would prefer to get Streit signed to a long-term contract extension but as of last week, the discussions were still in the early stages. One NHL source compared Streit to Brian Campbell, who was traded at the deadline in 2008 to San Jose for Steve Bernier and a first-round pick (which became Tyler Ennis). He's great on the power play and would be the kind of addition you'd feel comfortable signing to an extension if he's a good fit.

Reasonable asking price: A-level prospect plus a second-round pick

...

9. D Lubomir Visnovsky, Islanders
Contract: $5.6 million

He's an interesting player who could be a power-play boost to a team looking for veteran help on defense. It has been a tumultuous year for him both on and off the ice as he has dealt with his son's illness along with being traded across the continent against his wishes. He has maintained his professionalism, putting up six points in 12 games with the Islanders. "He's a year [removed] from being dynamic in Anaheim," said an NHL source.

Reasonable asking price: Second-round pick, which would help the Islanders recoup the second-rounder they sent to Anaheim to acquire him.

...

13. D Sergei Gonchar, Senators
Contract: $5.5 million (NMC)

If the Senators get into sell mode before the deadline they'll move Gonchar, their veteran defenseman. He has nine points in 21 games this season (one off Erik Karlsson for the team lead) and still logs 24:05 of icetime per game, a number that might be best scaled down a little for a Stanley Cup contender. He'll provide defensive depth and can run a power play, valuable components for a contender such as Pittsburgh or the Rangers.

Reasonable asking price: Second-round pick. Maybe more if there are a couple teams interested.

...

19. D Robyn Regehr, Sabres
Contract: $4 million (NMC)

The Sabres worked hard to get him from Calgary, which may make GM Darcy Regier reluctant to deal him and a contract extension more likely. "I don't know if he's going anywhere," said an NHL source. The Sabres have depth on defense when they're healthy and probably would prefer to move Jordan Leopold, but he wouldn't get the return Regehr potentially could get at the deadline. Leopold probably is worth a late-round pick.

Reasonable return: B-level prospect plus fourth-round draft pick.

Ahem:

16. D Ian White, Red Wings
Contract: $2.9 million

White has gone from Nicklas Lidstrom's partner on defense to a healthy scratch in one year, which is quite a difference. When the Red Wings are healthy, and that hasn't been the case too often this season, they have plenty of bodies on defense. GM Ken Holland may prefer to upgrade his top four rather than deal one of his veterans, but if he can spin White into an asset that helps him trade for more playoff help, it would be a smart move. He's not big or particularly gritty but White has offensive skills that teams teams can use on defense. He's also a right-handed shot, which helps the cause. "He's a puck-mover who can play on your power play," said one NHL source.

Reasonable return: Second-round pick.

Update: The Wings posted two promotional videos. The first involves the Toast of Hockeytown...

And the second involves Brendan Smith promoting a charitable donut being sold at Tim Horton's...

 


Also:  MLive's Brendan Savage reports that MLive readers picked Brian Lashoff as their "most impressive rookie," and Michigan Hockey's Dave Waddell published a profile of Lashoff...

Unwanted and undrafted in the 2008 NHL Draft, Detroit Red Wings’ defenseman Brian Lashoff is a testament to there’s more than just one way to work your way into the National Hockey League. The Albany, N.Y. native slipped through seven rounds of the draft that June, but Wings’ general manager Ken Holland wasn’t going to let him slip away this summer.

Not part of the Wings’ plans when the season started, injuries and Lashoff’s ability to take advantage of the opportunity said injuries presented prompted Holland to sign the 22-year-old to a three-year deal worth $725,000 per season Feb. 25.

“We like to reward young people when they play well,” Holland said. “The reward is a one-way deal.”

In his 18 games, Lashoff has a goal and three points and is minus-four. However, the tale of Lashoff’s worth isn’t told in statistics. His is a game best measure by what scouts call the ‘eyeball test.’ The six-foot-three, 212 pound Lashoff reminds many of the previous holder of the No. 23 jersey in Detroit – Brad Stuart. Lashoff is a gritty defenseman, who leads the Wings in hits and is among their leaders in blocked shots. He’s become a pivotal piece on the penalty kill and he’s gone from unwanted to one of the first names called by coach Mike Babcock.

“He’s played on the top pairing with (Niklas) Kronwall, played against the best players, also played on the penalty kill,” Holland said. “He makes a good outlet pass. He competes hard. He’s got a good reach. And he’s only 22. We think he’ll get better and better.”

While others may have had questions about his ability to develop into an NHL regular, Lashoff’s faith never wavered. These are heady times for the youngster nicknamed ‘Smash’, yet he refuses to be sucked into the vortex of good vibes.

“When I came here I was never going to get too high or too low, just kind of stay the same way throughout my time here and work hard every day,” Lashoff said. “It never changes for me, whether it’s a game day, a practice or if I’m playing. I’m going to be ready whatever opportunity is given to me.”

I'll let you read the rest on your own, but it's worth your time;

Mighican Hockey's "Shaved Ice" column also posted an awesome video of the first "Winter Classic"...

 


The Score's Justin Bourne praised Johan Franzen, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg while using...Hockey "lingo"...

In the fantasy hockey department, Jimmy Howard received praise from NHL.com's Justin Goldman...

Jimmy Howard – Red Wings: Going 3-1-1 in his last five games, Howard is coming off two of his best games of his season. He stopped 32 of 33 shots in a 2-1 shootout loss to Chicago on Sunday, and then stopped 36 shots in a 2-1 win against Colorado on Tuesday. He has allowed just four goals in his last three games, and seven goals in his last five games.

But Darryl Dobbs panned Henrik Zetterberg's scoring slump of late...

Henrik Zetterberg, Detroit Red Wings (4-0-0-0, plus-1, 2 PIM, 8 SOG) – I love how - and I say this without sarcasm - Mike Babcock sticks to the Zetterberg-Damien Brunner line combination. Far too many coaches would have subbed in about 30 other players on that line by now, at first sign of a slump.

In the "only by the Griffins' video team" category, via RedWingsFeed, Landon Ferraro, Luke Glendenning and Tom McCollum answered Reddit questions while eating lunch at P.F. Chang's...

And the Edmonton Journal's Bruce McCurdy penned a second game-day update, regarding the Oilers' top lines:

The Edmonton Oilers reel into the Motor City tonight, lurching badly and burning oil. Winners of just four of their past 16 games, the Oilers are nonetheless hanging on grimly near the back of the Playoff Peloton, 13th in the West but just three points outside the current cutline. Tonight’s hosts, Detroit Red Wings, are on the sunny side of that line in 6th place, but fighting for their on playoff lives after winning just 11 of their first 23 games. A regulation victory by the Oilers tonight would draw them within three points of the Wings while still holding a game in hand. A clear loss on the other hand and the Red Wings will be serenading “See You In September”.

Oilers coach Ralph Krueger is responding by shuffling his deck chairs hands, while leaving his top six intact from Tuesday night’s shootout loss in Columbus. The fourth line, victimized for a killer goal against in each of the last two games, has undergone another makeover, as the one common ingredient from those two games, Ben Eager, finds himself in the press box tonight. The lines as tweeted by the Oilers:

#91 Magnus Paajarvi – #89 Sam Gagner – #14 Jordan Eberle
#4 Taylor Hall – #93 Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – #83 Ales Hemsky
#94 Ryan Smyth – #20 Eric Belanger – #64 Nail Yakupov
#28 Ryan Jones – #54 Chris VandeVelde – #13 Mike Brown

Right off the hop I noticed the subtle shift of ordering of the lines embedded within that tweet, with the Gagner trio now listed first. Don’t recall that happening before. Maybe it’s nothing, we’ll see how Krueger deploys them, and as importantly, how Mike Babcock responds with the last change.

Three keys for the Oilers tonight:

1. Get some production from the powerplay. Both units have been spinning their wheels on the road trip, scoring just twice in 20 opportunities with all zeroes the last three games, and lucky enough not to be scored against a time or two. The overtime 4-on-3 aside, in those three games, Oilers have had six 5-on-4 powerplays which generated a collective 3 shots. That’s a brutal shots rate for even strength play, let alone with the man advantage.

2. Pay attention to detail. Against Columbus all three goals against were in part the result of an Oiler forward losing his man high in the zone, either by falling asleep (Eager, Hall) or getting sucked out of position (Jones). May or may not be a coincidence that all three find themselves a little further down the nominal depth chart tonight, with Eager right out of the mix after two games with a bad goal against on his rap sheet.  Jones will take his spot on 4LW, having seen time on both wings and on lines 2 through 4 just in the handful of games since he returned. Tonight Job One for him and his linemates is to play a solid defensive game, preferably by getting a good cycle going 200 feet away from their own net but without allowing the silly 3-on-2s please.

3. Get a strong two-way game from the Schultzes. I try not to get too panicked by +/- in a small sample size like twenty-odd games, but at any point in a season that a minus figure dips into double digits it’s cause for concern. So it is with Nick Schultz, whose -12 is the worst minus of any player in the Western Conference. Over the last ten games he’s posted an ugly -11. Justin Schultz is a little better at “just” -7, but has just one plus game in his last 15. These guys need to turn things around somehow, and at both ends of the ice to some degree. Otherwise it may soon be time for Krueger to have a hard look at his second pairing in addition to the constant juggling on the third. That said, tonight’s third pairing is unchanged by necessity, as Mark Fistric remains on injured reserve and Theo Peckham is still too sick to play.

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Comments

HockeytownOverhaul's avatar

However, the tale of Lashoff’s worth isn’t told in statistics. His is a game best measure by what scouts call the ‘eyeball test.

What?  Can’t be, someone told me on here “eye-ball tests” are wildly inaccurate, no way scouts use it.  Study stats.

Posted by HockeytownOverhaul on 03/07/13 at 05:53 PM ET

George Malik's avatar

He means watching Lashoff play, watching how comfortable Lashoff is in his own skin, how easily he plays strong positional hockey—that stuff isn’t statistically quantifiable, but on a game-by-game basis, watching Lashoff’s body language, skating strides, how he gets his sticks and skates in passing and shooting lanes, his “compete level,” all of that stuff adds up.

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 03/07/13 at 06:01 PM ET

MOWingsfan19's avatar

“Smash” for Lashoff…. nice.

Posted by MOWingsfan19 from I really like our team on 03/07/13 at 06:12 PM ET

HockeytownOverhaul's avatar

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 03/07/13 at 05:01 PM ET

I know Geo, in another discussion the other person said in defense of his cherry picked stats that they were more reliable than the “wildly inaccurate eyeball test”

Eyeball test is all that matters in the end.  People who know hockey recognize good hockey.

I think Smashoff has done stellar and will only get better the more established he gets.  He’s definitely one your “swiss army knife” D you like so much George.

Posted by HockeytownOverhaul on 03/07/13 at 06:27 PM ET

perfection's avatar

For all White’s whining, frustration, and “not understanding”, he lays out in the Pleiness article EXACTLY what’s happening. There’s a reasoning behind the decision and he apparently understands it. So he should keep his mouth shut! I’m really finding his crying to the press to be melodramatic and definitely can’t be making Babs happy.

Since the LA game, our D has been really good… without him. Can’t change until that changes. Quincey, Kindl, and Lash are all playing really well and White’s last game he was -2 in an 8-3 route. Pretty obviously doesn’t have much to whine about. He will almost certainly be back on the ice this season with the way our injuries happen, so he should just focus on that.

Posted by perfection from LaLaLand on 03/07/13 at 06:32 PM ET

d ca's avatar

White has had a history of being a healthy scratch on other teams and was moved around by a few teams for being “a locker room cancer.” He’s been with the Leafs, Flames, Hurricanes, Sharks, and now the Wings (there is a reason for that). Because of how he looked playing with the greatest d-man of all-time (my opinion is Orr didn’t play long enough and was Lindros/Bure like in his career): we didn’t see it until now.

He’s whining about playing time. Imagine how Kindl must feel about that having to wait to get a chance to crack the lineup with the likes of Lidstrom, Chelios, Rafalski, Stuart, Schneider, Kronwall, Ericsson, Lilja, Quincey, etc…only to have to listen to a teammate whine about playing time when he is getting outplayed..

On another note….NHLPA approves realignment. Good for those in the EST (EDT in a few days), but bad for us that are living in a different time zone.

Posted by d ca on 03/07/13 at 08:03 PM ET

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The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.