EDMONTON - You can't expect to come back when you give a team like the Detroit Red Wings an early lead. It's a lesson the Edmonton Oilers still haven't learned.
Jiri Hudler scored a pair of goals as the Wings won for the fourth time in a row, edging the Edmonton Oilers 4-3 on Thursday night. "Our start killed us tonight," Oilers defenceman Sheldon Souray said. "You get down 3-0 to a team like Detroit in the first 10 minutes of a game and it is a tough mountain to climb. Our starts are obviously a concern to us. Our competitive level has to be better off the start."
Pavel Datsyuk and Tomas Kopecky also scored for the Wings.
Andrew Cogliano, Lubomir Visnovsky and Souray replied for the Oilers (9-9-2), who had a late comeback to make the end result look better but are still winless in four of their last five.
Edmonton essentially handed the Wings the win on a platter with yet another slow start. Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish kept the dressing room closed for 15 minutes after the game and questioned team toughness.
"There's not enough personal commitment collectively to battle," he said. "Whether you are a small guy, medium guy, young guy, experienced guy, you have to battle. You have to get in there. We're not competing hard enough collectively, especially in our own building. We haven't played a good game in our building yet.
"We have to come out and start taking charge in our building otherwise it is no advantage."
With the win Detroit improved to 13-2-3 and are 6-0-1 in their last seven outings.
But even though his team started well, their play later in the game gave head coach Mike Babcock cause for concern.
"We jumped on them early. Then after the 10-minute mark, for the rest of that period we fell asleep," he said. "We got into some penalty trouble. It always happens when you're ahead in this league but we were able to battle through it and get a win."
It didn't take long for the defending Stanley Cup champs to get on the board. The Wings scored just 1:50 into the first period when Andreas Lilja's point shot was kicked aside by Oilers goaltender Dwayne Roloson before being gathered up and sent into the net by Hudler.
Detroit made it 2-0 just six minutes later on the power play as Pavel Datsyuk feathered a shot through traffic.
Just 2:11 later, the Wings scored another marker with the man advantage, this time with Kopecky tipping in a Nicklas Lidstrom shot.
Kopecky said it was a shot in the arm to get some power play time and contribute with his first goal of the season.
"Right before the opening face-off, Mike (Babcock) told me I was going to be a big guy on the power-play and I played the power-play last year a little bit and I kind of know what to do," he said. "Go in front, battle and find the pucks. You try to do the best and with those guys it's so easy. You give them the puck and get open they find you anywhere. It's definitely a good confidence booster for me and hopefully I'll keep it going."
Mathieu Garon came in to replace Roloson in the Edmonton net after the veteran goalie allowed three goals on 10 shots. Edmonton actually outshot Detroit 15-12 in the opening frame despite falling behind.
The Oilers finally got on the scoreboard with a power play marker of their own with seven minutes remaining in the second as Robert Nilsson made a nifty behind-the-back pass to Cogliano, and he snapped a shot past Detroit starter Chris Osgood.
But the Wings restored their three-goal edge on another power play with a minute and a half to play in the second, as a puck caromed high off the glass and came straight down to Hudler at the side of the net and he stuffed in his second of the game.
Edmonton made a game out of it with a pair of goals just 19 seconds apart late in the third period. With a little over seven minutes to play Visonovsky took advantage of a scramble in front of the Detroit net, wiring a slap shot from in close with the teams playing four-aside. The Oilers received a power play opportunity just seconds later and capitalized as Souray unleashed his patented bullet from the point for his seventh of the season to make it a one-goal game.
Edmonton yanked Garon for the final minute but couldn't get the equalizer.
The Red Wings play the second game of a three-game Western Canadian road swing on Saturday in Calgary. The Oilers are off until next Wednesday when they play host to the L.A. Kings.
Edmonton captain Ethan Moreau hopes that the time off and far fewer road games on the horizon than the 14 they have played to this point can help the team turn things around.
"We have gone through the toughest stretch I have ever seen played in my career schedule-wise," he said. "With the exception of a couple games, now we are home for a while. We'll see what we have now. We'll see if guys can rise to the challenge and play better at home."
Notes: Detroit was missing the services of forward Tomas Holmstrom due to back spasms suffered in the warm-up and defenceman Niklas Kronwall because of a sore ankle Edmonton saw the return of defenceman Ladislav Smid from the injured list and opted to play him on left wing. It was the first time Smid has played as a forward since the third grade The Red Wings have now netted 38 goals in 11 road games this year, second-most in the league. Only the Oilers, who have skated in a league-high 14 road games this year, have more with 39 Edmonton forward Shawn Horcoff became the 18th player in Oilers history to skate in 500 games on Thursday night.