Welcome 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.
It’s official, the Detroit Red Wings will miss the playoffs for the fifth straight season, which is still an odd feeling for those who remember when the team would use the regular season as a warm-up for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Alas, those glory days are over, and this team is jockeying for NHL Entry Draft positioning, though there’s still plenty to watch. Fans got a glimpse of that with the much-anticipated debut of prospect Joe Veleno Tuesday night, who put in a solid effort.
The team’s remaining schedule, combined with a plethora of injuries, will open up space for more ice time than what the prospects have earned all season, and give the next wave of stars the chance to answer one question:
Are you ready?!
Hopefully, the youth movement can provide a boost on offense. Detroit was 1-2 last week and scored just one combined goal in those losses. With just five games remaining, the kids will leave it all on the ice, and it should be fun to watch.
Series Finale With the Stars
4/22 vs. Dallas: Win, 7-3
4/24 vs. Dallas: Loss, 2-1 (overtime)
Last Thursday’s game was technically the third game in a four-game set with the Dallas Stars, and though the Red Wings had dropped the previous two games 3-2 (shootout) and 5-2, respectively, newcomer Jakub Vrana stole the show in the 7-3 win by scoring four goals. For those keeping track at home, former Red Wing Anthony Mantha has six points with the Washington Capitals, while Vrana and trade companion Richard Panik have combined for eight points over the same span. Looks like the trade is working out nicely for both sides.
In an interesting twist of fate, Vrana became the first Red Wing to score four goals in a game since Mantha, who also did it against Dallas.
The Red Wings were not as fortunate in the series finale, losing 2-1 in overtime on Saturday night. Defenseman Dennis Cholowski scored his first goal of the season, but Dallas tied the game in the third period and won in overtime. Detroit finished with a 2-3-3 season record against the Stars.
Overall Grade vs. Dallas: C
Two Shutouts, One Game
It’s a rare occurrence, but both Thomas Greiss and the Columbus Blue Jackets‘ Elvis Merzlikins pitched shutouts last night, though Columbus claimed the victory in the shootout. The win was especially important for the Blue Jackets, who snapped a nine-game losing streak. The point that the Red Wings earned, however, ensured Detroit would remain ahead of Columbus in the standings, for now.
Greiss and Merzlikins recorded 33 and 41 saves, respectively.
The game was ripe with anticipation as Veleno made his first-ever appearance with the Red Wings. Though he was held off the scoreboard (along with literally everyone else), he showcased his abilities throughout the game, including a great stick lift-steal-shot opportunity that resulted in a high-quality scoring chance. Despite the lack of points, it was an impressive debut for the 21-year-old, who recorded four shot attempts (two on goal), blocked two shots, had one takeaway, and won 4-of-7 faceoffs in 14:59 of ice time.
Veleno answered the question in his first game: yes, he is ready.
Overall Grade vs. Columbus: C
3 Takeaways From Last Week’s Games
1. Joe Veleno is Ready For The Big Show
Yes, it was one game, but it highlighted that Veleno possesses the skill set, awareness, and hockey IQ to play a long time in the league. That his impressive showing came against the Discover Central Division’s basement dweller is irrelevant, his debut was as good as one could be without registering on the score sheet.
The points will come, but what was more important was the first impression made on teammates, coaches, and even fans. He passed his first test with flying colors.
2. The Red Wings Have a Scorer In Vrana
Yes, he’s a notoriously streaky player, but four goals in a single game is hardly a fluke. Considering how decimated the team is, Vrana’s options for playmaking seemed limited. The team’s top scorers are sidelined with injuries, yet he’s one of only five Red Wings with a positive plus/minus rating (plus-4). That’s not an easy feat on a team that’s lost as many games as the Red Wings have.
Vrana has embraced the opportunity to reignite his young career, and as young talent continues to be stacked alongside him, we may be witnessing the beginning of a budding star’s legacy.
3. Jamie Benn is Dirty
It’s said that hockey players have long memories. Well, here’s hoping the Red Wings remember what Jamie Benn did to Red Wings captain Dylan Larkin in the waning moments of Thursday’s game because, needless to say, justice was not served. Benn cross-checked Larkin in the upper-body area immediately following a face-off to end the captain’s season prematurely.
In a cruel twist of fate, Benn then scored the game-winner in overtime on Saturday, though many argue he should have been suspended for his hit on Larkin. Put a pin in this one, and let’s see what happens when the two cross paths next season.
At Carolina Hurricanes (4/29, 7:99 PM ET)
Statistical Leaders (49 Games):
Goals – Sebastian Aho (21)
Points – Aho (49)
Wins – James Reimer (14)
SV% – Petr Mrazek (.939)
The Carolina Hurricanes have punched their ticket to the playoffs and will be using this time to fine-tune the little things as they prepare for a potentially long postseason run. The team is still without goalie Petr Mrazek, who has now sat out four straight games with an injury.
Detroit has a surprising opportunity to close the season series. The Red Wings have a 4-3 record against the Hurricanes this season and have a chance to finish with a winning record against the Discover Central Division leaders.
Vs. Tampa Bay Lightning (5/1, 3:00 PM ET; 5/2, 3:00 PM ET)
Statistical Leaders (49 Games):
Goals – Brayden Point (21)
Points – Point (45)
Wins – Andrei Vasilevskiy (29)
SV% – Vasilevskiy (.927)
The Red Wings will wrap up their season series against the Lightning this weekend and in a familiar story, will be facing yet another team preparing for a deep Stanley Cup run. The defending champions just clinched a playoff spot (not that it was ever in doubt), and have beaten Detroit in four of six games this season.
Before tomorrow’s game against the Stars, the Lightning have been hot, winning three straight, and four of their last five games.
Players to Watch
The Hurricanes have been led by Aho this season, and he’s one to keep an eye on Thursday. In his last five games against Dallas, Florida, and Tampa Bay, he has nine points (three goals and six assists) and has been an offensive force to be reckoned with lately.
Conversely, Tampa’s player to watch resides between the pipes, and Vasilevskiy, who leads the NHL in wins, has a good chance of picking up another one against a Red Wings team that consistently struggles to find the back of the net. He has been somewhat vulnerable lately, allowing over three goals per game in his last five starts, though he averaged 31 saves per game over that span. If Detroit is to win, they need to pepper the goaltender.
Detroit’s player to watch is an easy one. Veleno is getting all the buzz after a promising showing in his NHL debut on Tuesday. He completely bypassed the Grand Rapids Griffins this season after a successful stint in the SHL, where he recorded 20 points in 46 games on one of the league’s more mediocre teams, the Malmo Redhawks. Can’t wait to see him light the lamp for the first time as a Red Wings!
The season is quickly winding down, and though other teams are just beginning their journey into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Red Wings will again be focused on finishing strong and giving some of the young talent ice time to gain valuable experience and showcase their abilities ahead of next season’s training camp. It should be noted that Detroit matched their win total from last year in 20 fewer games, and though the team has a long way to go, they have shown signs of improvement.
Sit back, and enjoy the next week of play – there may be some players on display who will be talked about for generations to come. There’s still plenty ahead to discuss (see: Jeff Blashill’s future), but for now, the focus will be entirely on the next generation of Red Wings.
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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.