"On a night where the team was more important than the individual and Connor was a little bit quiet, he still found a way to have an impact on maybe the most important play of the game," Oilers coach Todd McLellan said. "A lot of guys would've shot that puck. He had enough patience to find Nugent for a wide-open goal."
McDavid made the goal happen, starting with a faceoff he won in the left circle. After the draw, the 19-year-old center skated toward the net before subtly finding a spot on the bottom of the right circle. McDavid got the puck back, drew three Detroit players, and threaded a pass between two of them to Nugent-Hopkins on the inside of the left circle, where he shot into an empty net.
"If that pass gets picked off or knocked down, we're having a different debate on why I didn't shoot it," McDavid said. "I saw a play. Lucky it worked out."
McDavid has five goals and nine assists in 13 games in his second NHL season, and his skill seems a bigger factor than good fortune.
"He made a great play," said Detroit's Justin Abdelkader, who scored his team's only goal. "He froze everyone."
Edmonton's Tyler Pitlick scored a tying goal late in the first period on a wraparound and Jonas Gustavsson made 22 saves, helping hold off his former teammates with a one-goal lead in the final period.
"We played real well, especially in the third," Gustavsson said. "We didn't open up, kept it real simple and didn't give them a lot of chances to tie it up. We played a real mature period."
The Oilers have won two straight, playing their first set of back-to-back games this season, after losing three in a row.
Abdelkader put the Red Wings up 1-0 midway through the first period on a power play, making them the first team to score with an extra skater at home against the Oilers, who rank among the NHL leaders in penalty killing.
Jimmy Howard made 26 saves for the Red Wings, who have has lost five straight after winning six consecutive games.
"We got off to a good start and got the lead, but then we spent too much time outside," Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg said.
Detroit pulled Howard with a minute left and a faceoff in the Edmonton end but couldn't score to send the game to overtime.
"There are too many times where we are passing up shots and trying to take an extra pass," Abdelkader said. "Sometimes, the best play in hockey is putting the puck on the net.
Gustavsson, a former Red Wing, played in just his second game this season to give Cam Talbot a break. ... Detroit F Thomas Vanek missed his sixth game with a lower body injury. ... The Oilers scratched F Zack Kassian and F Jesse Puljujarvi.
Oilers: Edmonton plays at Pittsburgh on Tuesday night.
Red Wings: Detroit plays at Philadelphia on Tuesday night.