SUN Hockey Pool

Wing & a prayer

DEREK VAN DIEST -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:07 AM ET

For years the Detroit Red Wings have come into Edmonton as the big dog, the team to beat, perennial Stanley Cup favourites.

Tonight, is the shoe on the other foot?

"It's too early to say that," said Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish. "We had a good run last year. But you have to prove that year in and year out. Six games in, it's too early to say that."

Last year the Wings were the class of the NHL during the regular season, but lost to the Oilers in the first round of the playoffs. This year the Red Wings arrive with a .500 record, coming in off a pair of lopsided losses to the Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks.

They're also without veterans Brendan Shanahan and Steve Yzerman.

Shanahan is now with the New York Rangers, while Yzerman retired.

"It's going to be interesting to see," MacTavish said. "Brendan had 40 goals and those goals are tough to replace.

"We're going to get their best effort coming off a couple of pretty lopsided losses for them against maybe two of the best teams in the game. It's going to be a tough game for sure."

The Oilers are a different team than the one which knocked off the Red Wing last spring. So far the changes have worked in their favour.

There have also been changes in Detroit.

Back this season is goaltender Dominik Hasek who has played in five of the Red Wings six games this year.

"Every team is going to be different from one year to the next," said Oilers centre Jarret Stoll. "But they still have a lot of skill and they still have a lot of guys that can hurt you offensively."

Last year the Oilers employed the trap to neutralize the Red Wings in the playoffs.

This year the Oilers boast a more offensive lineup. They're also more confident heading into tonight's encounter.

"We definitely have a different feeling playing these guys," Stoll said. "A couple of years ago maybe you were a little intimidated by them and in the back of your head you weren't too confident.

"Now our confidence is flying high."

However, the Red Wings are not a team to be underestimated.

Detroit was written off last year as a team that would struggle in the new NHL. With the loss of Yzerman and Shanahan, some are writing them off again this season.

But with a lineup that includes Nicklas Lidstrom, Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, the Red Wings still have plenty of talent.

"They're going to come in here playing a little desperate, playing a little hungry," said Oilers winger Ryan Smyth.

"It's important that we raise our level of play."


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