Red Wings Wednesday Weekly: Survival of the Fittest

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.

No one tries to survive games like the Detroit Red Wings. They play a brand of low-event, low-scoring hockey that doesn’t lead to many wins and is tough to watch visually. With upcoming games against the Carolina Hurricanes and Tampa Bay Lightning, look for the Wings to try and get through what could be a nightmarish few weeks. With that being said, let’s look back on the past week for Detroit while previewing their next stretch of games as they look to survive once again.

Gagner Goes Off Against the Predators

2/25 vs. Nashville: Win, 5-2

If you said before last week’s game Sam Gagner would get a hat trick against the Preds, then you deserve something for that. You should be writing for The Hockey Writers instead of me at this point. But in all seriousness, last week’s game was one of the best Red Wings’ performances all season. Outside of Gagner’s contributions, Luke Glendening, Darren Helm, and Bobby Ryan each had two points against Nashville, while Bernier stopped 37 of 39 shots. It was a great effort all around, and it’s too bad they couldn’t play like this regularly.

Thursday’s Grade vs. Nashville: A-

Flying Around the Windy City

2/27 @ Chicago: Win, 5-3

2/28 @ Chicago: Loss, 7-2

After beating the Predators last Thursday, the Red Wings carried that momentum into a 5-3 victory over the Blackhawks at the United Center on Saturday night. With no Dylan Larkin, who is out with an undisclosed injury, Detroit went out and gave out another solid performance. Bernier got the start once again on Saturday, making 33 saves in the process, and took home first-star honours. Overall, it wasn’t as good as Thursday’s game against the Preds but a win is a win.

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For all the good the Red Wings had shown us in their last two games, they absolutely ruined it with a stinker on Sunday. They lost 7-2 in the second game of the back-to-back, even though they were down just 2-1 heading into the third period. Thomas Greiss was in net for all seven goals, including Patrick Kane’s 400th career goal, reminding us what this Detroit team is really like. While I can’t be too upset with a split series, it was disappointing seeing the Red Wings fall the way that they did on Sunday after a quality win on Saturday.

Overall Grade vs. Chicago: C

Blitzed by the Blue Jackets

3/2 vs. Columbus: Loss, 4-1

I understand the circumstances surrounding this game were against the Red Wings. The Blue Jackets had fans in the building for the first time this season, creating some much-needed energy. Larkin is still out, and no one is too sure when he’ll come back. Detroit was wearing their ridiculous Reverse Retro jerseys. Despite all of that, Columbus still felt like a beatable team, and the Wings managed to lose by three goals.

Max Domi Columbus Blue Jackets
Max Domi, Columbus Blue Jackets (Photo by Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)

Credit where credit is due to the Blue Jackets for playing a strong game. Joonas Korpisalo didn’t have too much to worry about, considering he only faced 20 shots, which meant that Columbus did a wonderful job of slowing down Detroit’s offense (which is pretty easy to do in the first place but still). We’ll see if it’s more the same when they meet on March 27 and 28.

Overall Grade vs. Columbus: D

3 Takeaways From Last Week’s Games

1. Goaltending is Still Detroit’s Best Position

In my last Red Wings Wednesday Weekly, I mentioned how Detroit should play around their goaltenders because they are the best positional group on the team. That’s playing to your strengths, and smart teams do it all the time. Since goaltending is the biggest strength on this team, it still makes sense to play a defensive system that sees their goalies face plenty of shots.

Jonathan Bernier Detroit Red Wings
Jonathan Bernier, Detroit Red Wings (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Sure, you could argue that the goaltending has been bad the last couple of games, but who else are you going to build your team around at this point? A forward group without Larkin? A defense core with Danny Dekeyser and Marc Staal in the top four? I know injuries have taken a toll on this team, but I don’t know how you can look at the Red Wings and say that they shouldn’t be playing around their goaltenders. We’ll see how they play in their upcoming games against the Carolina Hurricanes and Tampa Bay Lightning, but I can’t see how they win without strong performances from Bernier and Greiss.

2. The Red Wings Have Trade Assets (?)

My colleague Tony Wolak touched on potential pieces the Red Wings could move between now and the Trade Deadline on April 12. Personally, I’d be happy if Steve Yzerman could get some assets for both Bobby Ryan and Marc Staal. Ryan leads the team in points with 13 on the season, while Staal should play for a team that’s closer to winning the Stanley Cup at his age instead of being on this bad Detroit team. Maybe the Wings could get another 2nd round pick for Staal after acquiring a 2nd round pick from the New York Rangers for him.

In terms of more core guys, I would be concerned if Yzerman traded young players like Mantha and Bertuzzi. Considering both of them were re-signed over the offseason, it feels like a panic move for Detroit should they move on from either one of them. I’d prefer to see Ryan, Staal, and even Bernier traded before they touch the younger core of players.

Bobby Ryan Detroit Red Wings
Bobby Ryan, Detroit Red Wings (Photo by Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images)

I’m not sure what you could get for any of these players considering the flat salary cap and suppressed trade market with Canadian teams because of the country’s 14-day quarantine for people entering. I would love to get a third or fourth pick in the 2020 NHL Draft for Ryan and/or Staal, but I don’t imagine there would be more than half a dozen teams who would make those deals. The Boston Bruins and Florida Panthers make sense in terms of contending teams are looking to add to gear up for a playoff run, but it’s purely speculation at this point.

3. Now is the Time to Go on a Run

Listen, the Red Wings probably aren’t going to make the playoffs or have a winning record. However, if they are going to try and make something out of nothing this season, now is the time to do so. They have just four road games for the rest of this month, and six of their next 11 games are against teams with a losing record. Now is as good of a time as any for Detroit to go on a winning streak (more than two games in this case) and show some push-back. It can’t be any worse right?

Upcoming Matchups

@ Carolina Hurricanes (3/4, 7:00 PM ET)

Statistical Leaders (22 games)

Goals: Vincent Trochek (12)

Points: Sebastian Aho (20)

Wins: James Reimer (10)

Save Percentage: Petr Mrazek (.955)

My pre-season pick to make the Stanley Cup Finals (along with the Colorado Avalanche) has been better than advertised to some. Part of that comes from the quality goaltending they’ve received from three legitimate netminders. James Reimer is 10-3 this season, although his save percentage (.902) and adjusted goals-against average (3.13) have been a little underwhelming. In six starts, Alex Nedeljkovic has a .924 save percentage, while Petr Mrazek has a .955 save percentage in his four starts this season. The Hurricanes’ goaltending will be (and has to be) a reason they go all the way.

Vincent Trocheck Carolina Hurricanes
Vincent Trocheck, Carolina Hurricanes (Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images)

These teams haven’t met since the first two games of the year, which they split. I’m sure the Hurricanes are somewhat kicking themselves for not winning the second game, but that’s why having someone like Rod Brind’Amour coaching your team makes a huge difference. He does not feel like someone who wants self-pity and will put his team in a position to win every night, no matter the opponent. He doesn’t get enough credit for how he’s turned Carolina around since taking over the position, and Red Wings fans will get another opportunity to see that on Thursday night.

vs. Tampa Bay Lightning (3/9, 7:30 PM ET)

Statistical Leaders (20 games)

Goals: Steven Stamkos (10)

Points: Stamkos/Victor Hedman (20)

Wins: Andrei Vasilevskiy (13)

Save Percentage: Vasilevskiy (.942)

The Lightning have been the class of the Discover Central Division so far. Their lineup, from top to bottom, is arguably the best in the NHL, and it’s hard to see them not in the first seed in the division by the time the season is over. I know I talk about this every time I bring up Tampa Bay, but Stamkos’ comeback this season has been remarkable. He added another assist on Tuesday and will surely increase his scoring total when they face the Red Wings.

Steven Stamkos Tampa Bay Lightning 2020 Stanley Cup
Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning hoists the 2020 Stanley Cup. (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

Outside of Stamkos, Tampa Bay still has their usual suspects to watch out for. Vasilevskiy is stopping everything in front of him, Hedman is tied for the team lead in points, and Sergachev is second on the team in assists with 14. All of those players are legit and puts the Bolts in a great opportunity to repeat as Stanley Cup champions.

Players to Watch

For the Hurricanes, I got my eyes on defenseman Brett Pesce. The stay-at-home D-man earned first star honours in THW Canes’ writer Matt Cosman’s 3 Stars of the Month for February article last week, and I would feel silly for not mentioning him. He also has 13 points and is second on the team in blocks with 28. He’s going to be tough for Detroit’s forwards to get by, so don’t be shocked if you hear the name Pesce more than once on Thursday.

When it comes to the Lighting, I have to go with Sergachev as a player to watch. For only being 22 years old, he’s just a sensational player who does everything that’s asked of him. He plays the tough minutes with Hedman, he makes plays all the time (as evident by his 14 assists), and is doing while starting in the defensive zone almost 58% of the time. He’s going to make life miserable for the Red Wings, so be sure to pay attention to him as much as possible.

Mikhail Sergachev Tampa Bay Lightning
Mikhail Sergachev, Tampa Bay Lightning (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

A player on the Red Wings I’m watching for is Jonathan Bernier. He was pulled in Tuesday’s game against the Blue Jackets, but I touched on earlier, Bernier still makes Detroit’s goaltending their best position overall. I don’t know who Blashill will lead on these upcoming games, but I’d go with the 32-year-old from Laval against the Hurricanes and test your luck against them. If he doesn’t work out, then there’s going to be a lot more about the Wings to be concerned about.

Final Thoughts

This has been one of the better weeks to discuss the Red Wings, and they still lost two miserable games. While I don’t see it happening, now is a great time to go on a long winning streak, even with their tough competition these next few days. These next few games are critical for the future of the roster and possibly the job security of Jeff Blashill as well. Hopefully, fellow THW Red Wings writer Devin Little has more positive things to write about next week.

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