The Detroit Red Wings seem to finally be hitting their stride on the road, but they'll be without the league's leader in wins for the rest of their swing.
Minus goaltender Jimmy Howard, the Red Wings look for their third straight road victory on the season and eighth in a row overall versus the Edmonton Oilers, who try to extend a four-game point streak of their own this evening in the return of first overall pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
Detroit is currently in possession of a club-record 17-game winning streak at home and is 20-2-1 as the host this year. That is compared to a 15-14-0 record on the road and the Red Wings were below .500 as the guest before returning from the All-Star break with wins at Calgary and Vancouver. Detroit was routed 7-2 in Montreal on Jan. 25 to begin this five-game swing.
Thursday's 4-3 shootout win over the Canucks did come at a price as Howard suffered a broken finger that will sideline him for the final two games of Detroit's trip. The Red Wings wrap the swing on Monday in Phoenix and Howard will be reevaluated when the club returns home.
Howard picked up his NHL-leading 32nd win on Thursday and is also among the league leaders with five shutouts. He made 22 saves versus the Canucks and stopped both skaters faced in the shootout.
Pavel Datsyuk and Jiri Hudler both scored in the deciding frame, while Danny Cleary, Drew Miller and Hudler scored in regulation. Miller's third-period goal with 7:55 left put the Red Wings ahead, but the Canucks forced the extra time on Mason Raymond's tying tally with 4:24 to play.
"We dig ourselves too many holes when we are on the road," said Detroit head coach Mike Babcock. "We can't do that all the time and expect to keep coming back."
Detroit, which leads the New York Rangers by two points for the most in the league with 71, recalled Joey MacDonald from the minors on Friday to back up Ty Conklin, who gets the start tonight. He'll be looking to slow down Sam Gagner, who matched an Oilers record with eight points in an 8-4 win over the Blackhawks on Thursday.
Gagner came into the game with just five goals through 43 games this year, but tallied four versus the Blackhawks. He also assisted on goals by Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Cam Barker and Ryan Whitney to match the club's single-game points record held by greats Wayne Gretzky and Paul Coffey.
"It's something I will never forget," said Gagner, who notched his second career hat trick. "It definitely feels good, it felt like everything I touched went in."
Hall, who has a goal in three straight, and Eberle both added three assists for the Oilers, who are 3-0-1 in their past four, still leaving them 14th in the West and 12 points back of a playoff spot. Devan Dubnyk stopped 43 shots in the win.
Barker played on Thursday for the first time since he suffered an ankle injury in November, while Nugent-Hopkins is slated to play tonight for the first time since sustaining a shoulder injury on Jan. 2. The top pick of the most recent draft has 13 goals and 22 assists on the season and still leads all rookies with 35 points.
"I'm pretty certain I'll be back tomorrow," Nugent-Hopkins told Edmonton's website.
"It's been a long road to recovery, but I'm feeling good and I'm excited to get back out there. It'll be important for me to get into the game right away, whether it be taking a hit, giving a hit or getting a couple of shots on goal."
Edmonton could use all the help it can get as it has lost seven straight to Detroit, which has points in 20 of the past 21 encounters in this series (14-1-6). The Red Wings have also won three straight while going 6-0-4 in their last 10 in Edmonton.