Detroit – The Red Wings have faced Ken Holland’s Oilers once already this season, on Oct. 18 in Edmonton.
But Tuesday night's rematch at Little Caesars Arena will be a bit different, as Holland returns to the city where he built a team that won four Stanley Cups and made the playoffs an incredible 25 consecutive years.
Fans are grumbling about the last three years running of not making the playoffs, but it’s likely they’ll give Holland – whose Oilers defeated the Wings 2-1 in Edmonton – a positive reception Tuesday night.
“Are you kidding me? Come on, the success he had here is remarkable,” said coach Jeff Blashill, gazing at the pictured Stanley Cups in the Wings’ locker room. “I mean, absolutely, 100 percent, remarkable. These leagues are always going to be cyclical, they just are, with the salary cap and draft. The job he did here was outstanding.
“He’ll be a Hall of Famer, without a shadow of a doubt. I feel really lucky to have worked for two of the most respected men in the NHL in Ken Holland and Steve Yzerman. I certainly have told him that and I’m sure the fans will too.”
Many players believe fans have not forgotten about Holland’s achievements in Detroit and the long-standing success.
“Sometimes in professional sports you’re judged on what you’ve done lately,” Justin Abdelkader said. “Now that he’s in Edmonton, people are, ‘Oh, he was a real good GM and he did have a part in four Cups.’
“All the guys that played for him, and know him personally, know the job he’s done.”
The Red Wings' playoff streak of 25 years is tied for the third-highest in NHL history, and it's possible streaks of that nature won't be matched.
“You wouldn’t think so, especially in this NHL, the way the salary cap affects teams,” Abdelkader said. “In today’s NHL, with the way teams are constructed and the window of opportunity (so small), it’s tough. It’s why GMs have a tough job keeping teams under the cap and competitive.”
Goaltender Jimmy Howard had a unique relationship with Holland, since Holland was a goalie himself in his playing days.
“He has a little soft spot for the goalies,” Howard said. “I always cherished the time here with Kenny and talking to him and learning from him.
“If it wasn’t for Kenny and (former goaltending coach) Jim Bedard, I probably wouldn’t be here. Kenny had a lot of patience with me and allowed me to develop and turn into a pro. I owe him a lot, my family owes him a lot.
“Four Stanley Cups? That’s a pretty successful GM right there.”
The Wings had a spirited, engaged practice Monday, despite the gut-wrenching loss the day before to St. Louis, which extended the Wings’ winless streak to eight games.
The team appears to remain upbeat, focused and optimistic.
“You have to be, you have to find a way to come to the rink every day in a positive mind,” Howard said. “Have some fun and work hard and get better. The last couple of games, we trended in the right way. We just need to put it all together.
“Nobody likes to go through this but we’ve been through it before. You just put your big boy pants on and win a hockey game.”
The Wings have seen enough positive developments in the last two games to give them reason to believe things will turn around.
“We talked after the Ottawa game (Wednesday, 5-2 loss) about our process and continue to focus on that,” Blashill said. “Our last two games, our process put us in position to win those games.”
Abdelkader (leg) and Adam Erne (upper body) both practiced Monday and appear close to returning to the lineup.
Abdelkader has missed the last two games, and Erne five of the last six.
“Erne is a possibility, we’ll see,” said Blashill, of Erne playing against Edmonton. “Abby is getting there. I don’t know if he’ll be ready, we’ll see.”
Oilers at Red Wings
Faceoff: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Little Caesars Arena
TV/radio: FSD /97.1 FM
Outlook: The Oilers (8-3-1) defeated the Wings 2-1 on Oct. 18. … C Leon Draisaitl (21 points), C Connor McDavid (21 points), LW James Neal (10 goals) and G Mikko Koskinen (5-0-0, .922 SVS) have fueled the Oilers’ hot start.