Red Wings Wednesday Weekly: Hold On Loosely

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.

Just hold on loosely
But don’t let go
If you cling to tightly
You’re gonna lose control

With five wins in their last six games, much fun has been had across Detroit Red Wings fandom. However, despite clinging on to a five game winning streak on the final day of this week, the Red Wings did, in fact, lose control, ending this week on a low note.

Filip Hronek Dylan Larkin Detroit Red Wings Weekly
Filip Hronek, Dylan Larkin (The Hockey Writers)

The Red Wings did not make it easy on themselves this week. Their first game went to a shootout and then their second game was decided in overtime. But like any good movie, the payoff is always sweeter when the action has you on the edge of your seat. We’re now a full week into the month of December and the Red Wings are a legitimate playoff threat in the Eastern Conference. At this point two seasons ago, anybody who follows this team was reading up on Alexis Lafrenière and fantasizing about how great he’d look in red.

Two years later and Detroit is fantasizing about the playoffs, with Lucas Raymond and the gang leading the charge.

Red Wings Outlast the Kraken

12/1 vs. Seattle, 4-3 win (SO)

On Oct. 14, 2017, the Red Wings handed the Vegas Golden Knights their first loss in franchise history. While the Wings don’t get to be a trivia answer in regards to the Seattle Kraken’s first loss in franchise history, they were successful in defeating the NHL’s newest team in the first edition of the “Battle for Cephalopod Supremacy” (trademark pending). It took a few extra rounds and a clutch goal from Adam Erne, but Detroit emerged victorious in the shootout, cementing a 4-3 win.

This was a fairly even-fought game with the Kraken’s Ryan Donato putting up two goals against Red Wings goaltender Thomas Greiss, while the Red Wings saw both Dylan Larkin and Moritz Seider collect two assists each. While the fear of dropping this game was absolutely real, the Red Wings did well to capture a win against an expansion team that is currently tied for last in the Pacific Division. If Detroit is going to make a serious push for the playoffs this year, they have to continue to put away games against inferior opponents like they did on this night.

Final Grade vs. Seattle: B-

Seider Comes Up Clutch Against the Islanders

12/4 vs. Islanders, 4-3 win (OT)

Remember when Seider did this against the Buffalo Sabres a month ago:

Well, once wasn’t enough for the budding star as Seider displayed some overtime heroics yet again, this time in front of a home crowd at Little Caesars Arena.

Givani Smith had himself a two-point night with a goal and an assist, cementing what might have been his best game so far this season. Elsewhere on the team, goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic had himself a below-average night at least in terms of the stat sheet, but he still did enough to lock down his team-leading eighth win on the season. Considering how much the Islanders have been struggling this season, the Red Wings did well to put this game in the win column as well. Just like the game against the Kraken, it may have been a bit closer than they may have liked, but a win is a win, and this particular win put Detroit in the first wild card position in the Eastern Conference, two points ahead of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Final Grade vs. New York: B-

Predators Pluck the Wings

12/7 vs. Predators, 5-2 loss

Maybe the Red Wings were resting on their laurels, maybe the Predators entered this game knowing not to take their opponents for granted, maybe it was something else. Either way, the Red Wings saw their five-game winning streak come to a close on this night as they put up a pretty disappointing effort against the Predators, mustering just 16 shots along the way.

Some games are like amusement park rides. They go up and down, and just when you think the exciting part is over, it launches again and flips you upside down. This game was more like a carousel: no twists and turns, minimal up an down movement, and overall it just went on way longer than it needed to. Also, the ESPN commentary on this was pretty uninspired, so it was hardly any fun to listen to as well.

Final Grade vs. Nashville: detention, along with the Predators’ Twitter page

3 Takeaways From Last Week

1. Thomas Greiss Needs to Get Going

Make no mistake: it’s hard for a goalie to get their game going when they’re spending the majority of their time watching from the bench. In this case, that’s not a bad thing, either, because Nedeljkovic has earned the extra playing time he has received over the last couple weeks. However, if the Red Wings are going to feel confident in giving their 25-year-old starter a breather every now and then, they probably need a bit more from their 35-year-old backup.

Related: Red Wings’ Nedeljkovic Is the Top Goaltender in Detroit

Through 11 games this season, Greiss holds a 5-6 record, a 3.34 goals-against average (GAA) and a .899 save-percentage (SV%). While he did enough to secure the victory against the Kraken this week, there’s no other way to put it: he has to be better. With a back-to-back coming up on the schedule, he is going to get one of the next two starts, and he’ll need to be sharp because either opponent is going to give him and the Red Wings a challenge.

2. The Red Wings Need More Shots

With 72 shots over this week’s three games, the Red Wings averaged just 24 shots a game this week. Meanwhile, they averaged 26.3 shots against this week. 26.3 shots against isn’t bad by itself, but its value is diminished when the team isn’t able to outshoot that total. This problem really came to a head during the game against the Predators, a team that isn’t much better than Detroit (the teams are now tied in points).

3. Seider’s Health Scare

In the third period against Nashville, Seider took a hit and his head smacked pretty hard against the glass. While he skated off on his own, he did leave the game and did not return. Red Wings head coach Jeff Blashill did not have an update after the game.

All was good this morning, however, as the German tank was skating during practice and looked no worse for wear.

With 18 points in 26 games, Seider is having himself a wonderful rookie campaign. He averages over 22 minutes a night in ice time and has quickly become the Red Wings’ top defenseman. If Detroit loses him for any amount of time, he’s going to leave a rather large hole to fill.

Upcoming Matchups

at St. Louis Blues (12/9, 8 PM ET)

Statistical Leaders (25 Games):
Goals: Brandon Saad (11)
Points: Jordan Kyrou (25)
Wins: Jordan Binnington (8)
SV%: Ville Husso (.927)

After losing 4-2 to the Red Wings on Nov. 24, the Blues will undoubtedly be seeking revenge in front of their home crowd. They currently sit second in the Central Division with a record of 13-8-4 after defeating the Florida Panthers 4-3 in overtime on Tuesday night.

This game marks the first time that Robby Fabbri will visit the visitor’s locker room at the Enterprise Center after playing the first 164 regular season games (and 30 playoff games) of his career with the Blues. He had two points, an assist and an empty-net goal, in the first meeting between these two teams, and he’ll be looking to score another goal in front of the Blues and their fans.

at Colorado Avalanche (12/10, 9 PM ET)

Statistical Leaders (22 Games):
Goals: Cale Makar (11)
Points: Nazem Kadri (31)
Wins: Darcy Kuemper (9)
SV%: Kuemper (.903)

The Avalanche are a hard team to nail down at the moment. They currently sit tied for fourth in the Central Division with a record of 13-7-2, they’re not getting spectacular goaltending from newcomer Kuemper, and they’ve dealt with injuries all over their roster, including to star center Nathan MacKinnon. The play of Kadri and Makar has allowed them to hang in there this season, but they don’t look like the team that many predicted to challenge for the Stanley Cup this season. That being said, they are currently on a 7-2-1 in their last 10 games, so we might be seeing them return to form finally.

Related: Big Questions Surround Avalanche Goaltending

This marks the first meeting between these two teams since March 2, 2020, a game which the Avalanche won 2-1. This also marks the first time that Red Wings fans will see forward Darren Helm wearing a jersey other than the Red Wings’, as he signed with Colorado during the 2021 offseason. The longtime Red Wings has three goals and five points through 22 games this season. Surely he’ll be meeting up with some of his former teammates prior to the game.

vs. New York Islanders (12/14, 7:30 PM ET)

Statistical Leaders: (21 Games):
Goals: Brock Nelson (9)
Points: Mathew Barzal (14)
Wins: Ilya Sorokin (6)
SV%: Sorokin (.924)

The memory of Seider’s overtime winner should not have faded away by the time these teams meet up again, once again in Detroit. The Islanders are 1-6-3 in their last 10 games and have struggled not only to score, but to prevent the other team from scoring as well – which, last time I checked, is THE recipe for losing hockey games. The thing is, you can’t completely count out any team that has Barry Trotz behind the bench.

Barry Trotz
New York Islanders coach Barry Trotz behind the bench. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

While they do have some games in-hand, the Islanders are in last place in the Metropolitan Division and are quickly losing ground in the playoff race. The only reason they haven’t been completely written off at this point is because they made the Eastern Conference Final in both of the last two seasons, and there have been a ton of players underperforming expectations – and they haven’t played a ton of games in their fancy new arena. If they’re going to turn the tide on their season, they need to start notching W’s against teams like the Red Wings.

Players to Watch

For the Blues, the hockey world is witnessing breakout campaigns for Kyrou and Robert Thomas. While Kyrou should be good to go Thursday night, Thomas is currently day-to-day with a lower-body injury. Thomas has 22 points through 24 games this season, with 20 of those points being assists. He is also on one of my fantasy hockey teams, so I won’t complain too much if he sees some action against Detroit.

As for the Avalanche, it has to be Helm. Watching him play on a contender should give Red Wings fans vivid memories of the 2008 and 2009 playoff runs the Red Wings went on while he was still making a name for himself in the NHL. That will set the stage for Dec. 20 when the Avalanche make their way to LCA, where he will definitely receive a video tribute early on in the game.

The Islanders are starting to see some solid offensive production from Oliver Wahlstrom, the 11th pick of the 2018 draft. With seven goals through 20 games this season, he’s a player who makes a difference on the ice by creating offense and either hitting the back of the net or making the goalie make a save. He scored two goals against the Red Wings in their game this week.

Oliver Wahlstrom New York Islanders
Oliver Wahlstrom, New York Islanders (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The Red Wings should be getting Tyler Bertuzzi back from Covid protocols in time for the game against the Islanders, and it can’t come soon enough. While Fabbri has done his best to fill in on Detroit’s top line alongside Raymond and Dylan Larkin, there’s just something missing from that line without Bertuzzi. We should also be able to get an idea of whether or not Bertuzzi’s absence took anything away from his game, or if he’ll pick up right where he left off. He has 18 points through 20 games this season.

Final Thoughts

This week should serve as a bit of a measuring stick for the Red Wings. The Blues and the Avalanche are two of the best teams in the Central Division, and the Islanders are desperate to turn their season around. Coming out of this week with three points or more has to be seen as a win, and it would allow Detroit to keep pace in the Eastern Conference playoff race. If they come out of it with less than three points, we might be heading into a proverbial “valley” after the past couple weeks saw them riding through a peak.

The key thing for the Red Wings isn’t necessarily points, however. While staying in the playoff race is conducive to playing competitive hockey (an environment which breeds player development), the ultimate concern has to be hanging in there with the best of the best. If Detroit can’t beat Colorado, you want to see them keep it close. The Red Wings haven’t been through a ton of blow-outs this season, with the exception of two games against the Montreal Canadiens and maybe another game here or there. That’s a positive development, and one that the Wings will want to maintain as they close out the first third of their season.

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