Red Wings Wednesday Weekly: November Rain

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.

The Detroit Red Wings, entering this week with a record of 7-5-2, played four games, and now have a record of 8-8-2. That alone should tell you that there were some ups and downs as this group continues to grow as individuals and as a team. That we’re quickly coming up on American Thanksgiving and the Red Wings are still doing fairly well is something that we haven’t seen since before Steve Yzerman took over as the team’s general manager.

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

As usual, we’ll begin this week’s post by looking back at what went right and what went wrong for the Red Wings this week. In some ways, this week was a bit of a microcosm of their entire season thus far….

Fucale Shuts Out the Red Wings

Once upon a time, Zach Fucale was drafted in the second round of the 2013 draft by the Montreal Canadiens, and a lot of people scratched their heads because the Canadiens already had one of, if not the best goalie in the league in Carey Price, so it seemed like overkill to also draft such a highly-touted goaltending prospect. Eight years later, Fucale made his NHL debut with the Washington Capitals and made sure it was a night to remember by keeping the Red Wings off the board the entire game.

Good for the kid.

On the Red Wings’ side of things, not only were they facing a 26-year-old rookie in net, but they also managed to hold Alex Ovechkin without a shot on net – that was the first time “The Great Eight” was held without a shot since before the pandemic began. If you had told me that both of these things were going to be true heading into this game, I would have bet an obscene amount of money that the Red Wings were going to win this game.

Obviously they didn’t (and for those who may be worried, no such bet was placed.) From a silent power play to an overall anemic offense against a goalie playing in his first game, this is a game that undoubtedly frustrated the head coach just as much as it frustrated the fans across Hockeytown.

Overall Grade vs. Washington: Zzzz….

Red Wings Beat Canadiens on Larkin’s Two-Goal Performance

Believe it or not, this was the Red Wings’ final meeting of the season with the Canadiens. After dropping both games that were played in Montreal, the Red Wings defended Little Caesars’ Arena with an overtime win, the final score reading 3-2. This was also the first time that the Canadiens had faced the Red Wings’ full lineup as Tyler Bertuzzi has been unable to cross the Canadian border due to, well, you know why.

Despite that fact, it was actually Red Wings captain Dylan Larkin who powered his team to victory. With two goals that night, including the game-winner, Detroit’s top line center saw his season totals (at the time) raise to six goals, with half of them being game-winning goals. If that’s not clutch, I don’t know what is.

Also of note was Red Wings goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic, who stopped 35 of 37 shots in this game, keeping his team in the game and allowing them to snatch a victory in overtime. Given that fans were heard chanting “let’s go Red Wings” out in the concourse of Little Caesars’ Arena a solid 15 minutes after the game had ended, it’s probably safe to say that fans, as well as their team, went to bed pretty satisfied on this night.

Overall Grade vs. Montreal: B+

Red Wings Let One Slip Away Against Blue Jackets

When you have a lead, you need to hang on to it tightly. You must firmly grasp it so that it doesn’t slip away:

In this game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Red Wings couldn’t firmly grasp their lead even if it was a butterfly net smashed through their hands. After going up 2-0 in the second period, the Red Wings yielded the lead by the end of the period and found themselves in a 2-2 tie entering the third period. After Lucas Raymond scored his seventh goal of the season to make it 3-2, it immediately felt prudent of the Red Wings to lock it down and leave Columbus with little to work with. Thomas Greiss was playing well, and three goals is typically enough to at least take the game to overtime.

The the Blue Jackets scored. Then they scored again. Then they added an empty-net goal with seconds left on the clock for good measure.

Related: 3 Takeaways From Blue Jackets’ 5-3 Win Over Red Wings

Next time the Red Wings find themselves with a one-goal lead in the latter half of the third period, I fully expect coach Jeff Blashill to shout “firmly grasp it!” at the boys on the bench and on the ice.

Final Grade vs. Columbus: C-

Covid, Stars Make Detroit See Green

The Red Wings entered this game with the memory of Jamie Benn’s hack to Larkin’s neck last season still lingering in the back of people’s minds. With a surprising lack of feistiness, it appears that those people were the only ones still holding on to that memory as the Red Wings seemed content to let this game play out like it was any other game. Benn even scored in this game just add salt in the supposed wound.

Okay, what REALLY added salt to the wound was the fact that Larkin disappeared from the game after the second period. Suddenly the Red Wings were down against the Stars, playing in Dallas without their captain just like that fateful night last season. While it wasn’t immediately clear what happened to Larkin, Blashill revealed after the game that the 25-year-old center was removed due to Covid protocols.

While the Red Wings did make a game out of this tilt in the latter half of the second period, the game pretty much slipped away once they were without their captain to start the third period. They eventually lost this game 5-2, with Nedeljkovic stopping 24 of 28 shots. Overall, this is a game where the hype leading up to it was a lot greater than the actual game that was played.

Final Grade vs. Dallas: D+

3 Takeaways from Last Week

1. That Alex Nedeljkovic is SO Hot Right Now

Prior to the game against the Stars, Nedeljkovic was on an absolute tear in goal, stopping 163 out of 175 shots through his previous five starts, good enough for a .931 save-percentage (SV%). Factoring in the Dallas game, “Ned” now has a .921 SV% through his last six starts.

To be quite frank: Nedeljkovic is already asserting himself as the better goaltender in Detroit. With all due respect to Greiss, who has a .907 SV% through his nine starts this season, Nedeljkovic has had a number of games this season where not only has he kept the Red Wings in the game, but he has provided a certain spark to the team through his acrobatic play and his strong puck-handling abilities. At 25 years old, it’s clear that the former Carolina Hurricane is a part of the Red Wings’ plans, at least for the near future. Why not let the kid run with the ball for a little bit here?

2. Red Wings Must Take Advantage of Goalie Matchups

With Jake Oettinger starting for the Stars last night, that marked the sixth time in the last seven games that the Red Wings faced the other team’s backup or third-string goaltender. Obviously there are a number of considerations that go into who starts for a given team on a given night, but it is odd that the Red Wings seem to be getting the other team’s “other” goaltender more often than not this season.

They need to start taking full advantage of it.

While their goal-scoring numbers are way up from last season, it’s worth wondering how high up their goals per-game rate could be if the Red Wings were able to capitalize a bit more on facing guys like Fucale and Sam Montembeault. It will be very interesting to see if this trend continues going forward, or if it’s all just a crazy set of circumstances and coincidences that has led us to this point.

3. Yes, Everybody Loves Raymond

Across the first 18 games of Raymond’s NHL career, he has been held pointless in just seven games. He leads all rookies with 18 points, and is producing at a rate that very few rookies have:

We are rapidly approaching the point where we no longer have to talk about small sample sizes. What Raymond is doing right now – on a team that lacks other players of his caliber, no less – is absolutely remarkable. If you aren’t sold on this kid yet, you might just have to wait until the next hype train arrives.

Upcoming Matchups

at Vegas Golden Knights (11/18, 10 PM ET)

Statistical Leaders (16 Games):
Goals – Jonathan Marchesseault (9)
Points – Chandler Stephenson (16)
Wins – Robin Lehner (7)
SV% – Lehner

Not even two weeks ago, the Red Wings came out ahead of the Golden Knights with a 5-2 victory at Little Caesars’ Arena. Since then, Vegas got their captain, Mark Stone, back from a long-term injury, and the team as a whole seems to be finding their rhythm. Furthermore, there may not be a better home ice advantage than T-Mobile Arena, and the Golden Knights will undoubtedly be eager to put on a good show in front of their hometown fans.

The Golden Knights are coming off of a loss against the Hurricanes on Tuesday night, and will want to right the ship against a seemingly inferior Red Wings team. The Golden Knights have not defeated Detroit since Feb. 7, 2019.

at Arizona Coyotes (11/20, 8 PM ET)

Statisitical Leaders (16 Games):
Goals – Lawson Crouse (4)
Points – Shayne Gostisbehere (13)
Wins – Scott Wedgewood (2)
SV% – Wedgewood (.941)

Remember that unrelenting pain you felt while watching the Red Wings during the 2019-20 season? That sense of “this team is never going to win a game, are they?” was only relieved a few times here and there as Detroit clawed their way to just 17 wins that season. While it ultimately led to the Red Wings selecting Raymond in that year’s draft, there is zero doubt that the 2019-20 season was one to bury and forget.

Related: Coyotes Corner: Offense, Special Teams Continue to Struggle

That’s this season for the Coyotes. With just two wins through their first 16 games, it’s clear that this is a team building for the future. With that in mind, the Red Wings absolutely must put this game away and notch a “W” in the desert. If they fail to do so, they will have four days until their next game – that’s a long time to sit and think about how you failed to defeat one of, if not the worst team in the league.

Players to Watch

As already mentioned, the difference between the Golden Knights team Detroit saw almost two weeks ago and the team they will see tomorrow is Stone. Vegas’s captain is one of the best two-way power forwards in the game, and his presence in the lineup is something that you can feel. He’s their franchise’s first ever captain for a reason, and he will definitely be eager to make sure the Golden Knights put away the Red Wings after falling short in his absence.

Vegas Golden Knights Mark Stone
Vegas Golden Knights Right Wing Mark Stone (Photo by Gerry Angus/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

As for the Coyotes, keep an eye on Jakob Chychrun, Arizona’s top defenseman who is serving in something of a Larkin role for this team. At 23 years old, the Florida-native scored 18 goals from the blue line last season on a mediocre team, and has been at the front of the team’s rebranding efforts as they look to revitalize their presence in the desert. He’s essentially their face of the franchise, and more than likely their future captain, just like Larkin was during that 2019-20 season previously mentioned.

For the Red Wings, all eyes are currently on Filip Zadina, who scored last night against the Stars. Despite that goal, there is some concern flaring up that the young Czech winger may be falling short of expectations. While his underlying stats are top-notch, he is underperforming in the stats that count: goals, assists and points. He definitely knows it, and his goal against Dallas could be exactly what he needs to get going.

Final Thoughts

This week only features two games, so there isn’t going to be a big swing in the Red Wings’ record by the end of it. That being said, Detroit is currently tied with the Canadiens for the most games played in the league (18). This light week will allow some of the other teams to catch up to their games played total, and that should give us an even clearer idea of where the Red Wings currently stand in the NHL hierarchy. They currently sit in a wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, but a team like the Boston Bruins has played five games less than Detroit, yet they’re only two points behind the Red Wings; long story short, this could be the week where we snap back to reality a bit.

The only way to prevent that reality check is by winning games. The Red Wings will have two opportunities to do just that this week.

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