Red Wings Wednesday Weekly: Howlin’ For You

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.

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

That was a week to forget.

The Detroit Red Wings went winless last week, compiling an 0-3-0 record while getting outscored 18-5 over that span. The first two losses, against the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers, were disappointing, though justifiable, considering both clubs have a true shot to hoist the Stanley Cup this season.

Tuesday’ 9-2 loss at home against the Arizona Coyotes (yeah, you read that right), however, had the Red Wings howling in pain.

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Detroit’s collapse was especially deflating considering forward Jakub Vrána made his valiant return to the team’s lineup, but his arrival had little impact on a club that has dropped five of its last six games. Let’s dive in to the weekly notebook.

Not Much to Smile About

3/4 at Tampa Bay Lightning, 3-1 loss

Detroit started its week in Tampa, where the Atlantic Division’s second-place Lightning awaited with open arms. The game was actually the most competitive one of the week for the Red Wings, who entered the third period tied 1-1 before two third-period goals (including an empty-netter with two seconds left in the game) ultimately put the game away.

Robby Fabbri scored the lone goal for Detroit in the first period, while Alex Nedeljkovic stopped 35 of the 37 shots he faced, but it was not enough to skate away with the win.

The penalty kill truly faltered, as every goal the Lightning scored was with the man advantage, and they ended up finishing 3-for-4 on the power play. Detroit, meanwhile, was 0-for-2, and didn’t have much of an answer for goalie Brian Elliott, who stopped 22 of 23 shots he faced.

All things considered, though, this loss was the best effort Detroit put up all week.

Final Grade vs. Lightning: C

3/5 at Florida Panthers, 6-2 loss

There’s no rest for the weary, and the Red Wings stayed in Florida, heading to Sunrise, to take on the Atlantic Division-leading Panthers. It wasn’t much of a game, and may have even foreshadowed what was to come, after the Cats jumped out to a 1-0 lead four minutes in. Just like against Tampa Bay, Fabbri tied it at one, but Florida used five consecutive goals en route to a 6-2 win.

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Tyler Bertuzzi scored the other goal for Detroit, which lost for the second time in as many days. Nedeljkovic was ultimately brought in for relief after Thomas Greiss surrendered five goals on 23 shots, and Ned stopped 15 of the 16 shots he faced in the game.

Robby Fabbri Detroit Red Wings
Robby Fabbri has scored in three straight games for the Red Wings. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Special teams again came back to bite Detroit, as it allowed Florida to score on two of three power plays, while going 0-for-2 with the man advantage. For those keeping score at home, the Red Wings allowed five power-play goals over seven opportunities in two games.

Believe it or not, though, the worst was yet to come.

Final Grade vs. Panthers: D

3/8 vs. Arizona Coyotes, 9-2 loss

The pundits all seem to agree. This one was rock bottom.

Detroit had an opportunity to right the proverbial ship with the last-place Coyotes visiting Little Caesar’s Arena on Tuesday, but it instead strung together a complete dud of a game, losing 9-2 against a team that, to that point, had managed just 36 points over the entire season.

The loss was especially deflating considering Vrána was in the lineup for the first time this season, and scored one of the Red Wings’ two goals in the game.

Yes, Arizona has been playing surprisingly good hockey lately (the win was the Coyotes’ third straight, and fourth in their last five games), and the top line of Clayton Keller – Travis Boyd – Nick Schmaltz has simply been on fire lately, but the hard truth is the Red Wings were manhandled by an inferior opponent that showed up with more energy, grit, determination, and drive.

Nick Schmaltz Arizona Coyotes
Nick Schmaltz recorded four points against the Red Wings on Tuesday. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

It took just 1:06 for the Coyotes to take the lead, and though Fabbri tied the game at one (for the third straight game!) five minutes later, Arizona dominated from that point on. Things got so bad that Nedeljkovic was removed by coach Jeff Blashill in favor of Greiss, but after the latter allowed two goals on three shots in the second, the netminders were swapped again.

There’s no consolation after a performance like that, however, Detroit killed off Arizona’s only power-play opportunity while going 2-for-4 with the man advantage. That’s about the only positive that can be seen in the box score.

Final Grade vs. Coyotes: What’s lower than F? G? H? Z? Yeah, we’ll go with Z.

3 Takeaways From the Week

1. Special Teams are not Performing as Expected

Though the team is emerging from its rebuild, its special teams play has left much to be desired. Detroit finds itself yet again near the bottom of the league in both penalty kills and power plays, as the former ranks 29th (74.03 percent) and the latter is 27th (17.29 percent).

Alex Nedeljkovic Detroit Red Wings
Alex Nedeljkovic hasn’t had much help on the penalty kill this season. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

There’s really not a whole lot else to say here, to be honest. Assistant coach Alex Tanguay’s arrival was supposed to help the power play this season, and though their mark this season is considerably higher than the 11.41 percent posted last season, the bar wasn’t exactly set very high. Considering the Wings’ improved firepower from even a season ago, including rookie sensations Lucas Raymond and Moritz Seider, more was expected this season.

The penalty kill has offered little relief as well, as they have allowed six power-play goals over their last four games.

2. Vrána’s Return Sparks Hope

Vrána’s first game may have been a colossal flop as a team, but the 26-year-old winger didn’t disappoint after potting a goal in his first game of the season. It’s certainly what Red Wings fans were hoping to see — minus the fact that the goal made it a 6-2 game, and Detroit was already being outplayed in every other facet of the game.

Vrána’s addition to the lineup should have a pretty considerable long-term impact, however, considering he’s recorded 169 points in 296 career games, including 11 points on eight goals and three assists in just 11 games with Detroit last season. Though he’s likely not a point-per-game player, he commands attention, and should help open the door for additional secondary scoring the remainder of the year.

3. Goaltending has been Suspect at Best

Not to pile on here, but Nedeljkovic and Greiss have been incredibly disappointing lately. They haven’t gotten much help from their offense, but fans expected more than a 3.19 goals-against average (GAA) and .901 save percentage (SV%) when general manager Steve Yzerman acquired the Ned last offseason.

Thomas Greiss Detroit Red Wings
Thomas Greiss has posted a 3.65 GAA and .888 SV% in 22 games this season. (Photo by Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images)

Some of that could certainly be tied to fatigue, considering Nedeljkovic has played 41 games, compared to Greiss’s 22, and without much reliable help in the paint, both goalies (and the team) has suffered.

Yes, Detroit’s defense is also suspect, but considering the Red Wings have allowed the second-most goals against this season (211, just one behind the Seattle Kraken and Montreal Canadiens), the expectation was that the club would not be nearly dead-last in goals allowed this season.

Upcoming Games

vs. Minnesota Wild (3/10, 7:00 PM ET)

Statistical Leaders (55 Games):
Goals – Kirill Kaprizov (28)
Points – Kaprizov (71)
Wins – Cam Talbot (21)
SV% – Kaapo Kahkonen (.912)

The Minnesota Wild are stuck in a four-team log jam in the Central Division, and are looking to hang on to a playoff spot as the season winds down. Though they have played well to this point, boasting a goal differential of plus-29, they are just 3-7-0 in their last 10 games, including two wins in their last eight. Their last game, however, was a 5-2 triumph over the New York Rangers, and they are starting to play must-win hockey.

Kirill Kaprizov Minnesota Wild
Kirill Kaprizov has put the Wild on his shoulders this season. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Friday’s game is the second and final matchup between the two clubs, as the Wild took game one in Minnesota 7-4 on Feb. 14. Last year’s Calder Trophy winner, Kirill Kaprizov, has not disappointed in his sophomore campaign, as he leads Minnesota in both goals and assists.

at Calgary Flames (3/12, 7:00 PM ET)

Statistical Leaders (56 Games):
Goals – Elias Lindholm (29)
Points – Johnny Gaudreau (74)
Wins – Jacob Markstrom (44)
SV% – Markstrom (.926)

The upstart Calgary Flames continue to lead the Pacific Division with 75 points, and are 7-2-1 in their last 10 games. The club is making its way through a murderer’s row of opponents, defeating the Colorado Avalanche and Edmonton Oilers before losing 5-4 to the Washington Capitals.

Calgary has won 14 of its last 17 games, and hosts Tampa Bay before welcoming the Red Wings to town. This will be the second and final meeting between the two after the Flames emerged victorious 3-0 all the way back on Oct. 21. The contest is the first of four straight road games for Detroit.

at Edmonton Oilers (3/15, 8:00 PM ET)

Statistical Leaders (57 Games):
Goals – Leon Draisaitl (38)
Points – Draisaitl (79)
Wins – Mikko Koskinen (32)
SV% – Stuart Skinner (.913)

The Edmonton Oilers just can’t seem to put it together for a full season, and the club is somehow in fourth place in the Pacific Division behind the Vegas Golden Knights, Los Angeles Kings, and the aforementioned Flames. They’re just 4-5-1 in their last 10 games, and stunningly sit outside of the playoff picture looking in, trailing the Dallas Stars for the final wild card spot by three points, with one more game played.

Connor McDavid Edmonton Oilers
Connor McDavid and the high-powered Oilers offense takes on Detroit this week. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Edmonton will host Washington and Tampa Bay before taking on Detroit, and with the season rapidly approaching its waning moments, the club will be desperate for a win. This is the final game between the Red Wings and Oiliers this season, with the Wings taking game one 4-2 on Nov. 9.

Players to Watch

It’s pretty straightforward from an opposition perspective, as Kirill Kaprizov, Johnny Gaudreau and Leon Draisaitl bring their crazy-high point totals against the Red Wings, who have done little to make any fan believe they’ll keep the puck out of the net against three high-powered offenses. The Wild, Flames, and Ooilers are fourth, fifth, and 12th, respectively, in goals-for this season, so the Wings’ defense needs to step up to help right the ship.

Johnny Gaudreau Calgary Flames
Johnny Gaudreau leads Calgary in points this season. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

For the Red Wings, meanwhile, keep your eye on Jakub Vrána, who truly was the team’s only bright spot against the Coyotes on Tuesday. You may want to also keep your eye on coach Jeff Blashill. While he’s likely not going anywhere at this point before the season is up, you never know what Steve Yzerman may to if the club continues to flounder. Allowing 15 goals in two games is something that simply cannot be ignored if the trend continues.

Opportunity for Redemption

The Red Wings were supposed to take the next step as a rebuilding team this season, and they seemingly had up until a few weeks ago. It seems like the losses are beginning to snowball, just as fans had witnessed in years past, and this is truly the moment for captain Dylan Larkin, and Co. to step up and stop the bleeding.

There’s still plenty of opportunity to play meaningful hockey as Yzerman continues to size up what his offseason moves will be, so it will be interesting to see if Detroit rebounds from an abysmal week of play to answer the bell moving forward.

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