Red Wings-Oilers Preview
The Edmonton Oilers' season looked to be spiraling south in a hurry, but a strong conclusion to their recent road trip suggests otherwise - especially with the team's captain back on the ice and finding a rhythm.
The Detroit Red Wings, meanwhile, are still trying to stop their own skid as they visit the Oilers on Friday night in hopes of continuing their recent dominance in this series.
Edmonton (10-11-5) went 4-8-3 while Shawn Horcoff missed 15 games with a broken knuckle. Starting a franchise-record nine-game road trip without Horcoff didn't help, and the Oilers lost five straight in the middle of that trek.
Horcoff returned for the final two games of the trip and scored a goal in each to help his club to back-to-back wins - including one at NHL-leading Chicago on Sunday. Wearing extra reinforcement in his glove to protect his hand, Horcoff has twice as many goals in the last two games as he had in seven contests before the injury.
Edmonton scored four times on eight power-play chances in the two games after going without a power-play goal during the five-game skid.
"If we don't win these two, if not close, we're really close to having it be something miraculous to make the playoffs," Horcoff said. "In a lot of ways, we can look back at this at the end of the year and hopefully say, 'That was pivotal for us.'"
The Oilers, trying to reach the postseason for the first time since 2006, still surrender more shots on goal per game - 33.9 - than any other team, but Devan Dubnyk's mostly sturdy play in net has allowed them to withstand it. Dubnyk posted his fifth career shutout in Tuesday's 4-0 win at Colorado, stopping 35 shots to improve his save percentage to .919.
More importantly, he felt OK after leaving the previous game with a neck injury following a collision.
"It was good," Dubnyk said. "On quick plays, jerking around, it would grab a bit. But nothing I would even think about for a second."
Dubnyk is 2-1-1 with a 2.37 goals-against average in four career starts against Detroit, but the Red Wings are 10-0-1 in their last 11 versus Edmonton, winning the first two matchups this season - both at home - by a combined 5-1 score.
Detroit has taken at least one point from 40 of the last 42 regular-season games in this series dating back to 2001.
The Red Wings (12-10-5) have lost three straight overall, though, and they continue to struggle badly on the road, going 1-4-1 in their last six. Detroit has committed 27 giveaways in its last two games, and the sloppiness was costly again as a turnover led to a crucial goal in a 5-2 loss at Calgary on Wednesday.
"We can't just keep giving the puck away, it doesn't work like that," defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. "If we want to get into the playoffs, we have to start fixing this right now, and it's up to all of us in here."
Detroit did snap a season-long road slump on the power play. The unit had gone without a goal in its first 37 chances away from home in 2013 before Valtteri Filppula's second-period score Wednesday.
It was Filppula's first game back after missing seven with a sprained left shoulder.
"Hopefully our power play starts to play better and we can take that advantage to the next game," he told the team's official website.