Red Wings Wednesday Weekly: Tale of Two Teams

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 concluded a busy week yesterday after compiling a 2-2 record with four games in six days. The week was an emotional roller coaster that started last Thursday with an embarrassing 7-1 loss vs. the Nashville Predators before they turned things around and defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets on back-to-back nights. Detroit rounded out their week against the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night, losing 4-1 after yet another unrecoverable slow start.

With all of that in mind, let’s recap the week, discuss what was good and bad, and preview the week ahead.

Poor Play Against the Predators

3/25 vs. Nashville: Loss7-1

It was one of the Red Wings’ worst performances of the season, trailing 4-0 just eight minutes into the game. Even more stunning, three of those goals were from Nashville’s Rocco Grimaldi. That’s right – Grimaldi notched his first career hat trick midway through the first period. He finished the game with four goals after recording one late in the third period.

To make matters worse, this loss came on the heels of a 2-0 loss to the Predators two nights earlier and was Detroit’s third-straight loss. There was little to celebrate — if anything — and the overall effort was one of the team’s worst all season.

Overall Grade vs. Nashville: F

Beating the Blue Jackets on Consecutive Nights

3/27 vs. Columbus: Win 3-1
3/28 vs. Columbus: Win 4-1

Despite their previous effort, the Red Wings recommitted to 2020-21 after what was referred to as the most intense practice of the season, and it showed. Backup goalie Calvin Pickard got the nod for both games, despite the back-to-back scheduling, and he came out the winner in both. Needless to say, it was a rough series for Columbus.

Pickard was the beneficiary of – wait for it – secondary scoring! All seven goals were scored by different players. On Saturday, Adam Erne, Robby Fabbri, and Anthony Mantha scored, whereas, on Sunday, Evgeny Svechnikov, Michael Rasmussen, Filip Hronek, and Vladislav Namestnikov tallied a goal. Namestnikov’s empty-netter to seal the win was also his 200th point in 459 career games.

Pickard was a shot in the arm in both games, stopping 37 of 39 shots in the series. Yes, he received some goal support, but his .949 save percentage (SV%) over that span didn’t hurt, either.

It was an encouraging sign for the Red Wings, especially after their loss to the Predators. It was by far the most complete effort of the season, and Detroit exited the series with two wins as proof.

Overall Grade vs. Columbus: A

Slow Start Dooms Red Wings In Panthers Opener

3/30 vs. Florida: Loss, 4-1

Tuesday night’s game against the Panthers was a far cry from the quick start they had against Columbus and resembled their disastrous start against Nashville, especially after Florida jumped out to a 3-0 lead just 12 minutes into the game. The early flurry left Jeff Blashill no choice but to pull Pickard in favor of Thomas Greiss, who filled in admirably for the remainder of the game.

The Panthers won 4-1, a statement of sorts after they had learned that their star defenseman Aaron Ekblad will be out of the lineup for 12 weeks following surgery. Florida responded swiftly as Jonathan Huberdeau scored just 17 seconds into the game.

Jonathan Huberdeau Florida Panthers
Jonathan Huberdeau helped the Panthers respond just one game after losing star defenseman Aaron Ekblad to an injury. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Filip Zadina notched a power-play goal midway through the second period to briefly cut Florida’s lead to two goals. Carter Verhaeghe scored less than five minutes later — his second of the game — to help the Panthers reclaim their three-goal cushion.

Overall Grade vs. Florida: C- (Game two of the series is Thursday)

3 Takeaways From Last Week’s Games

1. The Red Wings Need to Show Up Every Night

Detroit has shown flashes of consistency this season, and it’s become increasingly clear that they are capable of playing with the better teams in the league, provided they are dialed in for a full 60 minutes. Against Columbus, they won the battles in the trenches, made crisp outlet passes, took care of the puck, and most importantly, converted on high-quality scoring chances. Most forget that most of the season has been played without their top-six forward Tyler Bertuzzi.

Tyler Bertuzzi Detroit Red Wings
Tyler Bertuzzi, Detroit Red Wings (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Bertuzzi has played in just nine games this season and yet is stunningly still seventh in team scoring with five goals. Imagine if the team had his production to complement their recent scoring surge.

2. The Power Play is Still Lacking

The Red Wings had finally solved their struggling power play but have since rolled into another lull. Following Tuesday’s game against the Panthers, Detroit has only converted twice on 18 opportunities, and they are looking for anything to regenerate the chemistry that saw them score seven goals in an eight-game span between Feb. 27 and Mar. 16.

Since then, it’s been back to their old ways, as they continue to struggle to find the back of the net. Zadina did provide a bit of relief against Florida, converting on one of Detroit’s four power-play attempts.

3. Jonathan Bernier is the Red Wings’ Clear Number One Goalie

Goalie Jonathan Bernier has played well this season but has not been in net since he was injured in a 3-2 win over the Dallas Stars on Mar. 18. The team is 2-4 in six games since, and they’ve been outscored 16-2 in the four losses. It doesn’t get any easier, with another game against the Panthers on Thursday before a two-game set with the Tampa Bay Lightning kicks off on Saturday.

Jonathan Bernier Detroit Red Wings
Jonathan Bernier, Detroit Red Wings (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Bernier has been strong despite the team’s struggles, and he gives the Red Wings a clear opportunity to win when he’s healthy. Of Detroit’s 12 wins this season, Bernier has eight, while Greiss and Pickard have two each. Bernier’s SV% of .918 leads the three goalies.

Upcoming Matchups

at Florida Panthers (4/1, 7 PM ET)

Statistical Leaders (36 games):
Goals – Verhaeghe (17)
Points – Huberdeau (41)
Wins – Chris Driedger (nine)
SV% – Driedger (.927)

The Panthers received potentially devastating news regarding Ekblad after his surgery on Monday, but they didn’t miss a beat and remain in the thick of the battle in the Discover Central Division. The top three teams in the division are within a point of each other and with one more matchup against the Red Wings before they host the Blue Jackets for two games, the Panthers have an opportunity to remain in the thick of the divisional race.

Aaron Ekblad Florida Panthers
Aaron Ekblad’s absence will be felt in Florida. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Panthers are 5-2 against the Red Wings this season, and Friday’s matchup will be the last time the two teams face each other this season.

at Tampa Bay Lightning (4/3, 1 PM ET; 4/4, 12 PM ET)

Statistical Leaders (35 games):
Goals – Steven Stamkos (16)
Points – Victor Hedman (33)
Wins – Andrei Vasilevskiy (21)
SV% – Vasilevskiy (.930)

The Lightning were cruising along but have now hit a rare bump in the road the past few games, with a three-game losing streak, the team’s longest of the season. Back-to-back games against the Red Wings may be just what the doctor ordered for a team that was a unanimous selection in The Hockey Writers‘ weekly power rankings just last week.

Tampa Bay is led by star goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, whose 21 wins and .930 SV% leads the league. His goals-against average (GAA) of 1.99 ranks third.

Andrei Vasilevskiy Tampa Bay Lightning
Andrei Vasilevskiy has been tough to beat this season.(Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Lightning and Red Wings still have four games to play against each other this season, and Tampa Bay holds a 3-1 advantage at this point. Detroit did win the last outing between the two teams, a 6-4 decision on Mar. 11.

at Nashville Predators (4/6, 7:30 PM ET)

Statistical Leaders (37 games):
Goals – Filip Forsberg (11)
Points – Forsberg (29)
Wins – Juuse Saros (10)
SV% – Saros (.924)

The Predators are flying. They’re on a six-game winning streak and have won eight of their last nine. Upcoming games against the Stars, Chicago Blackhawks, and Red Wings will give Nashville a chance to strengthen their playoff positioning in what has become a log jam for the fourth spot in the division (Nashville – 39 points; Chicago – 39 points; Columbus – 36 points; Dallas – 32 points, and four games in hand).

Juuse Saros Nashville Predators
Juuse Saros, Nashville Predators (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Goalie Juuse Saros has had the hot hand lately, notching a win in four of the Predators’ last six games, including a 3-2 overtime win against the Stars on Tuesday.

Players to Watch

The Panthers have scored frequently lately, led by Verhaeghe, who not only leads the team with 17 goals this season but scored twice in Tuesday’s game against Detroit. In Florida’s 23 wins, he has scored 15 times, and in their 13 losses, he has only scored twice.

All eyes are on the Lightning and Predators’ goaltending, as their stellar play has led to success for both teams. As mentioned above, Vasilevskiy leads the way for the Lightning, who have relied heavily on the 26-year-old netminder. He has a 21-5-1 record in 27 games and, though he’s lost his last two starts, remains one of the top goalies in the league (and will be for years to come).

Saros, meanwhile, has been a breath of fresh air for the Predators. As mentioned above, he has started in four of the last six games, winning all of them, and was subsequently named the NHL’s third star of the week after stopping 80 of 82 shots for a GAA of 0.67 and .976 save percentage last week. After a tough start to the season, Saros has been a shot in the arm for the team’s playoff chances.

Robby Fabbri Detroit Red Wings
Robby Fabbri, Detroit Red Wings (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

For the Red Wings, Robby Fabbri has recorded three points in the team’s last five games, including a goal and an assist in the Columbus series. That said, he was held without a point and was minus-2 in Tuesday’s 4-1 loss to Florida, so look for him to bounce back starting Thursday night. In five games against the Panthers this season, Fabbri has one goal and two assists.

Final Thoughts

The roster will likely look very different in the next two weeks as the league’s April 12 trade deadline looms. The Red Wings are clear sellers sitting in last place in the Central, and general manager Steve Yzerman will be looking to move players like Bobby Ryan, Luke Glendening, Marc Staal, and/or Bernier to boost the team’s assets in the midst of the rebuild. If/when the deals happen, it will offer an immediate opportunity to see names like Givani Smith and Evgeny Svechnikov in the lineup regularly and may permanently tip the scale toward the youth movement in Detroit.

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