Welcome back to Red Wings Wednesday Weekly! In this weekly column, we will take a look at the Red Wings’ most-recent week of play, identify any players and/or trends that stood out, and then look ahead and find out what the next week may have in store for the team from Hockeytown. As always, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section down below.
At long last, we’re back! Hockey is back! The Detroit Red Wings are set to open their season against the Tampa Bay Lightning tomorrow night after yet another eventful offseason. The team heads into year three under general manager Steve Yzerman, and though its not expected to contend for a spot in the playoffs just yet, there’s plenty for fans to be excited about.
For one, 19-year-old Lucas Raymond made it literally impossible for the team to leave him off the initial 23-man roster after a stellar preseason. He’ll be joined in the lineup by Moritz Seider, who fans have been clamoring to see for well over a year at this point. And though the news hasn’t been ALL good (See: Jakub Vrana getting injured at camp), it’s expected that the Red Wings will at least take a step forward this season in what’s been a long and challenging rebuild.
We’ll kick this season’s series off by recapping the team’s final week of preseason action before diving into what to watch for this upcoming week, not to mention season. Let’s dive in!
Red Wings Drop Preseason Finale against Buffalo
10/9 at Buffalo: Loss, 3-1
The Red Wings finished the preseason with a loud thump, falling 3-1 to the Buffalo Sabres. In previous seasons, that likely wouldn’t be too eye-popping of a result, however, the Sabres are expected to finish near the bottom of the league this season, so Detroit’s final tuneup before hitting regular season action wasn’t exactly reassuring.
To add insult to injury, the game-winning goal was scored by Buffalo’s Zemgus Girgensons with just 13 seconds left in the second period — shorthanded, no less. The play was, well, less-than-stellar on the Red Wings’ defensive side, as goalie Alex Nedeljkovic and Seider had a clear miscommunication.
Sam Gagner scored the only goal for Detroit, and Nedeljkovic was stellar, other than the defensive gaffe, stopping 35 of 37 shots he faced. The Red Wings, meanwhile, mustered just 19 shots against a team that’s expected to be one of the worst in the league this season.
Overall Grade vs. Buffalo: D-
Strong Showing Against the Penguins
10/7 vs. Pittsburgh: Win 4-2
The flip side of that poor showing against the Sabres was a solid 4-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins a few days earlier, though it was the only win for the Red Wings in their final five preseason games. Thomas Greiss shined, stopping 22 of the 24 shots he faced, and Pius Suter, Filip Hronek, Joe Veleno, and Tyler Bertuzzi all contributed goals in the team’s win.
Veleno notched the game-winner with under five minutes left to play in the third after recording an assist earlier in the game, and though he won’t start the season in Detroit, he should be expected to contribute at the NHL level this season.
The team turned in one of its most complete efforts of the preseason, recording 37 shots to Pittsburgh’s 24, while winning over 60 percent of the faceoffs in the game. The game truly highlighted the all-around effort that Detroit needs to put forth on a nightly basis if it hopes to see better results this season.
Final Grade vs. Pittsburgh: B+
Special Teams Falls Flat Against Columbus
10/6 vs. Columbus: Loss 4-2
The Red Wings were simply unable to stop the Columbus Blue Jackets’ power play in this one, surrendering three goals while on the penalty kill. Detroit only had one power play of its own and failed to capitalize on it, though its two even-strength goals from Riley Barber and Dan Renouf were encouraging to see.
For a little perspective, though, the Red Wings’ roster for this game lacked a number of rostered players for the regular season, which is exactly why the preseason is never evaluated on wins and losses alone.
As far as the line goes from this one, Detroit was outshot (37-22), won fewer faceoffs (28-22), and had fewer power plays (4-1). Even so, they managed to even the score at two in the third period before surrendering two more in the last 13 minutes of the game.
Final Grade vs. Columbus: C-
3 Takeaways From The Preseason
1. The Red Wings’ Offense is Still No Juggurnaut
Though Detroit is expected to score more this season, those hopes took a bit of a hit when Vrana went down with a shoulder injury in training camp. The team finished the preseason 4-4-0, dropping four of its last five games, but to be fair there was a lot of line-shuffling taking place in the latter-half of its exhibition slate.
Still, all is not lost. Perhaps most encouraging is that the Red Wings’ offense was led by two newcomers: Raymond and Suter, who recorded six and five points, respectively. It was also good to see captain Dylan Larkin contribute four points in three games, as the team needs him to bounce back this year after posting just 23 points in 44 games last year.
Remember, this is still very much a rebuilding team still trying to find its identity.
2. Nedeljkovic Needs Time to Adjust
GM Steve Yzerman’s acquisition of Nedeljkovic was almost universally hailed as a great move, but the 25-year-old netminder had a preseason to forget, going 1-3 in four starts, while posting a 3.87 goals-allowed average (GAA) and .897 save percentage (SV%). That’s a far cry from the numbers he put up last season — remember, he finished third in Calder Trophy voting — going 15-5-3 in 23 games with a 1.90 GAA and .932 SV%.
It’s important to not hit the panic button early on him, but there’s no doubt Detroit will be asking more of him than what Carolina did last season. Simply put, that team was a legitimate contender, while this year’s iteration is decidedly not.
To be fair, Thomas Greiss didn’t fare any better, going 2-1 in four appearances while posting a 3.34 GAA and .875 SV%. Yes, the Red Wings’ blue line should be far better than anything that’s been seen in recent memory, but it still has a lot of shoring up to do.
3. The Kids Can Play
It’s evident by the team’s decision to not offer Bobby Ryan a contract straight out of camp: The youth of this team is starting to mature, and the talent level is off the charts. There’s going to be a huge learning curve at the NHL level, but early indications are that Seider is simply as good as advertised, and Raymond exceeded expectations in camp, stunningly earning a spot on the team’s 23-man roster.
Despite being assigned to the American Hockey League’s Grand Rapids Griffins to start the season, there’s little doubt the 21-year-old Veleno will crack the lineup at some point this season, and he had a strong preseason as well. He played in six of Detroit’s preseason games, and finished with two goals and two assists.
There’s still plenty of talent waiting in the wings, too. Keep the names Jonatan Berggren, Albert Johansson, Theodor Niederbach, and Simon Edvinsson in the back of your minds, because there’s a new wave of talent still waiting to burst onto the scene.
Don’t forget about Sebastian Cossa, either. It’s going to be a while before he’s seen, but he continues to dominate in Edmonton.
Vs. Tampa Bay Lightning (10/14, 7:30 PM ET)
Statistical Leaders (1 Game):
Goals – Anthony Cirelli (1)
Points – Cirelli (2)
Wins – N/A
SV% – Andrei Vasilevskiy (.906)
Things didn’t go exactly as planned after the Lightning raised their championship banner on Tuesday, as they fell to the Penguins 6-2 on Tuesday night. The score wasn’t quite as bad as it looked for the defending champs, as there were a number of goals swapped while Vasilevskiy was pulled for the extra attacker, but nonetheless, it’s safe to say the Lightning will be out for blood after falling to 0-1 on the season.
Yes, Tampa lost quite a few players from its championship team, but are still very much a contender in the Eastern Conference. It will be interesting to see how the young Red Wings fare against the wealth of experience rostered by the Lightning.
Vs. Vancouver Canucks (10/16, 7:00 PM ET)
Statistical Leaders (Preseason):
Goals – Nic Petan (2)
Points – J.T. Miller & Quinn Hughes (3)
Wins – Michael DiPietro (1)
SV% – Jaroslav Halak (.923)
The Canucks were 2-5-0 in the preseason, with wins coming over the Calgary Flames and Winnipeg Jets, but struggled during the entire exhibition frame. In their five losses they only scored more than two goals once (a 5-3 loss to the Seattle Kraken in their first preseason game), so that certainly needs to be addressed throughout the course of the regular season.
The Canucks had a rough go of it last year with COVID-19 issues, and Brandon Sutter continues to be sidelined with long-haul symptoms from the virus, but acquisitions such as Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Conor Garland ensure the team will be much deeper this year.
Vs. Columbus Blue Jackets (10/19, 7:30 PM ET)
Statistical Leaders (Preseason):
Goals – Oliver Bjorkstrand (5)
Points – Jakub Voracek (7)
Wins – Elvis Merzlikins (1)
SV% – Merzlikins (among rostered goalies) (.864)
The Blue Jackets open their season at home against the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday after going 4-2-2 in the preseason, and look to build on last season’s 18-26-12 record. Still, the team has a lineup that is still very much in flux, though their special teams looks to be on solid footing early on.
Look no further than Columbus’ last preseason matchup against the Red Wings, for that matter. The Blue Jackets converted on 3-of-4 opportunities with the man advantage. New coach Brad Larsen has clearly already had the team working on its special teams play.
Players to Watch
The Lightning need to bounce back after a tough opening night, so look no further than Vasilevskiy to step up in an effort to help the defending champs get back to .500 on the season. The Vezina Trophy runner-up will likely be back to midseason form before we know it. Ekman-Larsson drew headlines during camp as he adjusted to life in Vancouver, so it will be interesting to see how he gels with his new teammates. Finally, Voracek has returned to Columbus after playing in Philadelphia since the 2011-12 season, and looks to build on a very productive preseason.
As for the Red Wings, there are SO MANY options, but I think all eyes come down to the players making their NHL debuts for the Red Wings: Raymond and Seider. Raymond surprised almost everyone by making the 23-man roster out of camp, but the regular season is a much different beast, so it remains to be seen if he can be effective enough in the early part of the season to remain on the roster.
As for Seider, to be frank, this is the moment that Detroit fans have been waiting for. The team has been starved for blue line talent, and after an absolute unbelievable showing in the Swedish Hockey League last season, the time has finally arrived. All eyes will be on him and Nick Leddy, who he’ll likely be paired with, as the Red Wings kick off the regular season.
Hockey, hockey, hockey! It’s going to be an interesting start to the season, and the question remains, can the Red Wings build on the success of what they had near the end of last season. One of the biggest things to watch will be how the team handles adversity early on, because as fans can recall, Detroit’s eight-game losing streak early on last year derailed any chance for optimism. With so much youth on the team, what will happen when their backs are against the wall?
We’ll find out starting tomorrow night.
What are you looking forward to this season? Are you feeling good heading out of the preseason? Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments section down below!
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A die-hard hockey fan in the desert, and proud Iowa State alum. Detroit Red Wings and Arizona Coyotes contributor for The Hockey Writers.