GDB 11.0: A WING AND A PRAYER

Will Tom Renney put a shadow on Dan Cleary tonight? With the likes of Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, Nick Lidstrom and Mike Modano, you might be wondering why Renney should even be remotely concerned about Cleary.

Well, he’s an ex-Oiler who wears #11, this is the Oilers 11th game this year and he had three kids at the morning skate wearing Cleary jerseys. Ex-Oilers, specifically 3rd and 4th liners, have haunted the Oilers this season so Nikolai Khabibulin might want to pay a bit more attention when Clearly’s on the ice.

On paper tonight’s tilt looks like a mis-match.

The Wings are 7-2-1. Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Lidstrom all have 12 points in ten games. Franzen has six goals, and Todd Bertuzzi, looks ten years younger with a respectable nine points. They will get Jiri Hudler back in the lineup tonight, and he could be on their 3rd line with Cleary and another Oiler-killer, Mike Modano.

While the paper stats tell us this should be an easy Wings’ victory, the Oilers pumped seven goals past Chicago last Friday, and last year the Oilers won three of four v. the Wings, including both at Rexall Place. The Oilers have lots of respect for the things, but more importantly, according to Tom Renney there is the fear factor.

"Fear is a great motivator," said Renney when asked why the Oilers play well against the Wings.

Fear of being embarrassed can motivate some guys, and so can playing against your idol. Magnus Paajarvi was very excited this morning when I asked him about the Swedish connection. He’s never seen Lidstrom play live, and while he said he’s excited to see him he can’t get intimidated. Lidstrom is a hero in Sweden, and the Wings are the favourite team amongst Swedish fans with Zetterberg, Franzen, Jonathon Ericsson and Tomas Holmstrom according to Paajarvi.

Paajarvi wil also have new linemates tonight with Sam Gagner and Jordan Eberle, so he’ll have lots on his plate. If Paajarvi plays like he practiced this morning he should have a good game. Wings head coach, Mike Babcock, was really impressed by the 10th overall pick in 2009 this morning.

"I knew about the other ones (Hall and Eberle), but I didn’t know about him. I watched him on tape before, but when you see him live he is really impressive; what a great skater. They have some excitement off the rush and we don’t want to get into a river hockey game here, because they have some ability. Obviously Eberle can stick handle in a phone booth, and Hall is a great player, but one thing not a lot of people are talking about is Horcoff is back healthy. He is a real good two-way centre and he’s looked good.

"Gagner and Cogliano have evolved in their careers, Penner is a real good player and Hemsky is skilled, skilled, skilled. That’s a lot of guys I’ve talked about already. Most teams in this league you get four guys you pay, and the rest have to work hard. They’re lucky right now in the pay structure of things, but it will come and bite them soon too. In this league you have to get good before you have to pay them. Once you have to pay them you don’t get to have as many of them, so you have decide which ones you like and which ones are leaving."

I know Babcock says he doesn’t want to play river hockey with the Oilers, but I think with the weapons he has on his bench he could match them in a high-flying shinny game. I’d love to see it, and I’m sure the fans would love to be entertained with a back-and-forth up-tempo game.

LINE JUGGLING

Renney will juggle his top two lines tonight and fans will see Hall, Horcoff and Hemsky skate together for the first time in the regular season, which means they will see a heavy dose of Lidstrom. Hemsky was excited about getting to play with Hall, and says he has watched him Hall’s game evolve quickly and thinks they should play well together. Hall has a great shot, so look for Hemsky to try and find him sliding into the high slot late on some rushes.

The most interesting change will be on the blueline, where Jim Vandermeer will go from the pressbox to playing with Ryan Whitney. Renney needs some toughness and passing throughout his D-pairings, so he’ll play Theo Peckham with Tom Gilbert and Ladislav Smid with Kurtis Foster.

It doesn’t sound like one pairing will see the Zetterberg/Datsyuk/Holmstrom trio specifically, but rather he’ll try to match Horcoff”s line against them. Renney is hoping that the Triple H line can contain the puck more, so the Oilers won’t have to play as much defence against the Wings top unit.

LATE TO THE PARTY

It’s become a tradition in the Nation, so it’s about time I join in.

Game Day Prediction: We’ll see a high flying affair, and the Oilers will win 4-3 in a shootout. They are 6-1 all-time v. the Wings in shootouts.

Obvious Game Prediction: The Oilers give up two PP goals on four chances. Modano will speed through the neutral zone on his first shift, and moments later Hall will zip up ice and many in the building will instantly see the comparisons in their stride, speed and that their jersey’s both flutter in the wind and collectively SQUEEs will be heard throughout Rexall.

Not-So-Obvious Game Day Prediction: With Rod Phillips and Jim Matheson being re-united in the booth one final time, a plastic mickey of Silk Tassel will mysteriously fall from the pressbox after Stephane Auger calls Peckham for a questionable holding call.