After being shutout for the third time in four games back on Feb. 7, the Detroit Red Wings welcomed the league-leading Boston Bruins to Little Caesars Arena on Sunday afternoon.
In a game during which many pundits expected the Red Wings to get steamrolled, the team responded with a gutsy performance, shocking the Bruins en route to a 3-1 win.
So, what went right for the Red Wings in this contest, and what can we expect from this team as they finish out their harrowing season? Let us dive right in.
Jonathan Bernier is the Team’s MVP
Goaltender Jonathan Bernier was the main reason the Red Wings won today, and he has been the team’s best player for the majority of the season. He made 39 saves in the victory, including several stops in tight.
Despite playing on the worst team in the league, the 31-year-old goaltender has posted a 5-4-0 record across his last nine starts. Unbelievably, he has produced a 1.87 goals-against average and a .941 save percentage across the same timespan while facing an average of 32.1 shots per game.
Due to the Red Wings’ inefficiencies, it is understandable why Bernier’s stellar play has flown under the radar. Nevertheless, the veteran netminder has been carrying the team on his shoulders for the past few months.
In response to that, it is horrifying to imagine how bad the team would be if they did not have Bernier. He has managed a 12-14-2 record across 29 starts. Jimmy Howard, Calvin Pickard, and Eric Comrie have combined for a 2-25-2 record.
Bernier’s trade value is steadily rising with each passing performance, but the Red Wings would be foolish to trade him unless a team drastically overpays. Howard is a free agent at season’s end, no young goalies are pushing through the pipeline, and Bernier has another year left on his contract.
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All due respect to Dylan Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi, who have both been beacons of positivity in an otherwise disheartening campaign, but Bernier deserves all the praise he can get.
Special Teams Showed Up
More often than not, if a team receives elite goaltending and performs efficiently on special teams, they win the game. The Red Wings had both on Sunday afternoon.
The Red Wings came into the game with the worst penalty kill in the league, stopping opponents just 73.8 percent of the time. On the other hand, the Bruins possessed the second-best power play in the league, cashing in on 27.3 percent of their opportunities.
So naturally, the Red Wings killed off all four penalties they took, including a 5-on-3 in the first period that lasted 1:18. In this sequence, Bernier was particularly stout, stopping Brad Marchand at the side of the net multiple times.
At the other end of the ice, the Red Wings managed to pot a power-play goal for the second time in their last three games. They received a power-play opportunity at a pivotal time in the third period, and they managed to cash in on it.
It was a surprise, as the Red Wings are tied with the Anaheim Ducks for the worst power-play percentage in the league at 14.5 percent, are third last in the league in power-play goals (25), and lead the league in shorthanded goals against (11).
Of course, injuries to players like Anthony Mantha and Filip Zadina have negatively affected the power-play units, but the team often loses momentum with the extra man. It was nice to see them find success for a change.
Andreas Athanasiou’s Awakening
It is no secret that the 2019-20 season has been difficult for Athanasiou. Coming off of a 30-goal performance in the 2018-19 season, he was a leading member of the team’s young core. Unfortunately, Athanasiou had a dismal start to the year, as it took him 14 games before he registered his first goal.
If that was not bad enough, the 25-year-old also missed 17 games due to injury. Athanasiou recently returned to the lineup on Feb. 3, but he recorded zero points and a minus-five rating in the three games that followed.
Thankfully, the narrative changed on Sunday against the Bruins. Athanasiou scored the game-winning goal on the power play midway through the third period and then sealed the victory with an empty-net goal in the final seconds.
At even strength, the speedy forward found chemistry alongside Bertuzzi and Taro Hirose. The trio was by far the Red Wings’ best line in the contest and had several dangerous shifts in the offensive zone. These are the type of performances that were commonplace for Athanasiou last season, so it is reassuring to see him start to get his confidence back.
As for trade rumors surrounding Athanasiou, much like Bernier, unless a team blows general manager Steve Yzerman away with an offer, the Red Wings are better suited to hang onto the fleet-footed forward for the time being. He is a skillful player on a team that is sorely lacking talent, and his current trade value is lower than desired.
Another Injured Red Wing
A total of 26 different skaters have appeared in a game for the Red Wings this season. Only two, Larkin and Bertuzzi, have played in all 57 of the team’s games.
In the second period of Sunday’s game, Robby Fabbri was walloped by Par Lindholm at the blue line and immediately headed to the dressing room. Fabbri did not return to the game, which is a shame, as he has been one of the more positive storylines surrounding the team.
According to Ansar Khan, the team is still unaware of the extent of Fabbri’s injury, but they’ll have a better idea on Monday. If he is required to miss any time, perhaps former first-round pick Evgeny Svechnikov will be called up as a replacement.
Brendan Perlini Ends His Drought
In what has been a harrowing season for several players, Perlini may have struggled the most. While Fabbri immediately stepped in as a positive addition to the team, Perlini has had a difficult time finding consistency.
The 12th-overall pick from the 2014 NHL Entry Draft was acquired by the Red Wings back in Oct. The 23-year-old desperately needed a fresh start, and the Red Wings could afford to take a flier on a younger player with possible upside.
Unfortunately, through 29 games with the team, Perlini only had two assists and a minus-13 rating, but he finally broke out of the slump on Sunday. He opened the scoring with a seeing-eye wrister that slipped through Tuukka Rask, giving him his first goal with the Red Wings.
Perlini is one of 13 restricted free agents that the organization has this upcoming offseason, and he will need to end the season on a strong note if he is going to earn another contract. Thankfully, Sunday started him off on the right foot.
The Red Wings are now off until Tuesday when they go on the road to face the Buffalo Sabres.
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