Welcome back to Red Wings Weekly! In this weekly column, we like to 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.
This week was tagged in advance by many Detroit Red Wings fans as an important one. The team’s killer instinct would be tested against a weak Arizona Coyotes team and a Buffalo Sabres squad that has been suffering from a major slump throughout the month of November. Detroit was also given the chance to prove their worth against one of the best teams in the league, the Toronto Maple Leafs where they hoped to prove they belong in the playoff race.
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Not everything went Detroit’s way this week, but the results were acceptable with the Red Wings earning a split on points with three earned over three games. It was not quite enough to hold their playoff spot in the Atlantic Division, but enough to keep it within reach.
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So, what happened? Who performed and who disappointed this week? Let’s take a look at this week’s games and see why I’m surprisingly satisfied with Detroit’s efforts despite them only earning three of a possible six points.
Red Wings Dominate the Coyotes Despite the Score
11/25 vs. Arizona Coyotes, 4-3 SO Win
As a team, this might have been Detroit’s most dominant performance of the season thus far, so it makes sense that the reason the final score was so close was some horrendous luck. PDO is a metric that roughly measures luck as it combines a team’s save percentage and shooting percentage. If the sum of those two stats comes to 1.000, that is considered even luck, and anything below that is considered unlucky. Detroit’s PDO against the Coyotes was an abysmal .881, a horribly unlucky game.
The Red Wings had a Corsi For Percentage (The percentage of total shot attempts taken by Detroit) of 64.29% at five-on-five in this game, their highest mark of the season up until that point. Detroit also managed an Expected Goals For Percentage of 75.5% at five-on-five, which is also their second highest rate of the season and their highest since their opening night drubbing of the Montreal Canadiens (Stats via. Natural Stat Trick).
Detroit dominated Arizona at even strength and was profoundly unlucky throughout the night and they still managed to sneak out a win in the shootout with Dylan Larkin scoring the shootout’s only goal. That sounds like a win to me in more ways than one. When facing weaker teams, a truly good team needs to be able to win even on an unlucky night and Detroit managed to do that which I see as a really positive sign.
Final Grade: B
Toronto Takes Two Points Despite Being Outplayed
11/28 vs. Toronto Maple Leafs, 4-2 Loss
This was a very important game for Detroit since it functioned both as a great “measuring stick” for where the Red Wings are at, and as a very important game for the standings in the Atlantic Division. Surprisingly enough, Detroit had one of their very best even strength performances of the year against one of the NHL’s hottest teams, despite losing by two goals.
Again, Detroit suffered from a bit of bad luck with a PDO of .907 despite posting their best Corsi For Percentage of the entire season at 68.54% at even strength (stats via. Natural Stat Trick). The biggest reason Detroit couldn’t pull out the victory here was the rough start that Ville Husso got off to, allowing four goals on just 13 shots before being pulled roughly halfway through the second period.
Alex Nedeljkovic entered the game and did exactly what was asked of him, making 12 saves on 12 shots and giving Detroit a chance to get back in the game after initially being down 4-1. A late goal by Adam Erne wasn’t enough to mount a full comeback, but it was a respectable finish to the game by the Red Wings considering how ugly things were looking in the second period.
Final Grade vs. C+
Red Wings Rally in Third Period
11/30 vs. Buffalo Sabres, 5-4 SO Loss
This one felt like it was out of reach halfway through the second period as Detroit was down 4-1, déjà vu. However, this time Detroit was able to make a real game of it in the third with David Perron providing the spark, a 4-2 goal with 13 minutes remaining in regulation. Oskar Sundqvist then scored two goals in the space of two minutes to tie the game up and Little Caesars Arena in Detroit was loving it.
Although Detroit couldn’t manage to finish off the comeback fully, losing in a shootout, the fact that they didn’t quit and had another solid game at five-on-five was quite encouraging. Regardless, it is tough to lose to a team that had a record of 2-9-1 in their previous 12 games coming into this match in Detroit and the Red Wings will need to beat teams weaker than them if they want to really push for the playoffs.
The Red Wings’ powerplay really let them down in this one, scoring zero goals on seven power play chances including an extended five-on-three. Their power play currently sits at 19th in the league, which is still a remarkable improvement from last season, but will need to be higher if this team wants to really make some noise this Spring.
Final Grade vs. C+
3 Takeaways From the Week
Tyler Bertuzzi Needs Some Injury Luck
Tyler Bertuzzi spent most of the first quarter of the season on the IR as a result of a broken hand he suffered during the opening weekend of the season when he blocked a shot off his hand. He finally made his way back into the lineup on November 15th and has had a bit of a tough time building up his confidence and pace again.
In the game against the Sabres, Bertuzzi blocked a shot with his hand again and was clearly in some discomfort. He was unavailable to play in the overtime period and has since been returned to the IR after just seven games on the active roster. This is a contract year for Bertuzzi and his injuries are hurting his value on another contract both because he likely won’t get enough games to impress on the stat sheet, and because it is building his reputation as a player who struggles to stay healthy. I wish the best for him in his recovery, and I hope he can get back in the lineup for good sooner than later.
Dylan Larkin is Going to Need a Big Contract
We already knew that Larkin was going to command a big pay day whenever Detroit manages to reach an agreement on a contract extension, but his play this year has done nothing but inflate his value. I’m sure the Red Wings aren’t upset that he’s playing well, but they’re probably kicking themselves for not locking him up long-term last summer.
Larkin is on pace to set a new career-high in points, goals, power play points, and plus-minus rating. He has been electric to start the year and has shown no signs of slowing, despite regularly finishing each game as Detroit’s leader in ice-time amongst forwards. Larkin also shows his value in the face-off dot where he has won 54.27% of his draws, putting a huge gap between him and the next best face-off winner on the team, Michael Rasmussen who has won just 47.12% of his face-offs.
Huge contracts are being handed out around the league to top-line centres with two comparable ones that were signed in recent memory being Matt Barzal’s eight-year deal worth $9.15M/year and Roope Hintz’s eight-year deal worth $8.45M/year. I think Larkin’s offensive ceiling is below that of Barzal but above Hintz’s so I think it’s fair to expect Larkin to command an average annual value somewhere in the $8.5-9M/year range. This would be the largest, and longest, contract on the team by a good margin, but would still provide surplus value, especially once the salary cap begins to rise again.
Berggren has Played his Last AHL Game
Jonatan Berggren has been quite impressive through his first nine NHL games, earning six points and giving Detroit another weapon for their second power play unit. With Filip Zadina, Elmer Söderblom, and Bertuzzi all out with injuries, it feels like Berggren has a bit of security, and will likely remain in his spot for the rest of the year.
Rumours have circulated that Söderblom could be looking at some time in the AHL with the Grand Rapids Griffins when he comes back from injury to give him the chance to play some games and get back up to speed. I wouldn’t be surprised if he stayed there for most of the season as he’s clearly still adjusting a bit to the North American game and could use that time to season a bit. I think all Berggren needed this year was a chance to show that he is an NHL-level offensive talent and he has begun to prove that.
3 Stars of the Week
3. Jonatan Berggren (1g, 1a)
2. Dylan Larkin (2a, shootout winner)
1. Filip Hronek (1g, 3a)
My first (but not my last) repeated prospect in the prospect spotlight is Marco Kasper, who made a big announcement this week that he would not be playing for Team Austria at this year’s World Junior Championship in Halifax & Moncton. Rather, Team Austria announced it, stating that they believed it was best for him to focus on professional hockey in Sweden. This was either a very selfless move by the Austrian Hockey Federation, or them trying to save face in the off chance that Kasper informed them privately that he wanted to stay in Sweden, and they wanted to look like the good guys for publicly suggesting that.
Maybe I’m just a bit cynical, but I doubt that a nation on the brink of relegation in this year’s tournament would tell their best player to stay home, but crazier things have happened. Perhaps they’re putting his development first since he is one of the top Austrian prospects and could serve them better in the long run by becoming the best player possible and succeeding in professional hockey, improving Austria’s reputation in the hockey world.
Good Even Strength Results This Week
Despite so-so final results, this was Detroit’s best week when it comes to sustained five-on-five play and they showed that they could dominate against one of the league’s worst in the Coyotes, and one of the league’s best in the Leafs. If this is a trend and not a fluke, then the Red Wings might finally be able to convince me that they’ve got a chance at making the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
We’ll need a larger sample size before calling it either way, but I like to think that their even strength success this week is due to the players getting more comfortable with head coach Derek Lalonde’s new systems and making the plays he asks of them out of habit rather than having to think about it too hard. It can take time for a team to get comfortable with a new head coach, and it can take time for a first-time NHL head coach to get comfortable with the position and all the pressures that come with it. Regardless, the underlying numbers say this was a pretty good week despite Detroit’s slight slide in the standings.
Logan is the director of prospect coverage (including the World Junior Championship and NHL Draft) for The Hockey Writers, and he’s also a part of the Detroit Red Wings writing team. He loves reading about statistics and advanced analytics, and discovering how they can enrich his hockey analysis and writing.