Red Wings Wednesday Weekly: Snap Back to Reality

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.

Let’s be honest with ourselves for a moment. The Detroit Red Wings concluded their second week of the season with a collective record of 2-4-1 following two losses to the Chicago Blackhawks and an overtime loss to the Dallas Stars this week. Are they pretty much where we expected them to be? Unless you’ve been living under a rock the past couple of years, or you’re just eternally optimistic, the answer has to be “yes”.

Of course, it’s not just about the record. For a rebuilding team, it almost never is. Instead, it’s about how they look in their losses, and how specific players are contributing on the ice. Well, if this week is any indication of what the rest of the season has in store, then I guess the eventual pivot to 2021 draft coverage can’t come soon enough.

Red Wings Get Blown Away in the Windy City

1/22 at Chicago: Loss 4-1
1/24 at Chicago: Loss 6-2

When you’re outscored 10-3 over the course of two games, it’s not pretty. When you do that against an Original Six rival, it’s just embarrassing.

We knew the first game against the Red Wings’ rival across Lake Michigan was going to be rough fairly early on in the day. The news that Filip Zadina, Sam Gagner and Jon Merrill were joining Robby Fabbri and Adam Erne in COVID protocol came out and lead to an…interesting lineup.

Everyone not named Dylan Larkin came out looking flat during this game, and it never remedied itself despite the fact that they were playing against a goalie that was making just his second career start in the NHL. By the way, congratulations on your first win Kevin Lankinen – whoever the heck you are.

The only good thing to come out of this game was this incredible goal by the Red Wings’ captain:

The second game was even more fun – if you happen to be a Blackhawks fan. Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi were regularly looking to make things happen, but the rest of their teammates lacked the effort needed to turn the tide against Chicago. Anthony Mantha had a particularly rough game, capped off by a lack of effort in the defensive end, that resulted in head coach Jeff Blashill benching him for most of the third period.

Still don’t have an idea about how miserable that second game was? Here are a few of my notes from the game:

“Penalty kill almost as bad as power play.”
“Bobby Ryan is invisible.”
“Third line gets caved-in defensively.”
“Jonathan Bernier doesn’t look sharp.”
“Everything sucks.”

Overall Grade vs. Blackhawks: F- (Except for Larkin.)

Rebound in Dallas (Sort of)

1/26 at Dallas: Loss, 2-1 (OT)

This was the seventh game of the season for the Red Wings, and just the third for the Stars. Despite looking like an AHL-caliber team against a winless Blackhawks squad, they actually held their own against the reigning Western Conference champions. If you’re trying to make sense of that, you must be new to this sport.

This was a mostly low-event game. The final shot total was 22-21 in favor of the Stars, and neither team really created a ton of high-quality chances. Dallas allowed the Red Wings – a team missing half of their middle six forwards – to dictate the terms of this tilt; despite the fact that they were missing captain Jamie Benn along with Tyler Seguin, the Stars had more than enough firepower in their lineup to take it to the Red Wings. They did not do that in this game.

In terms of stand-outs from this game, the second line of Ryan, Mantha and Vladislav Namestnikov regularly created pressure in the Stars’ zone. This was especially promising given Mantha’s play during the previous game against the Blackhawks. Forwards Taro Hirose and Givani Smith, both of whom I named as stand-outs from training camp, both played in their second game of the season and looked good in limited action. So good, in fact, that those two combined to help Namestnikov score his first goal of the season.

These two teams will meet up tomorrow (1/28) to finish up their two-game series. We’ll see if the second game is more of an offensive one.

Grade in Game One vs. Dallas: B-

Three Takeaways from Last Week’s Games

1. Losing to the Blackhawks Isn’t Fun, Has Never Been Fun and Will Never Be Fun

Any questions?

2. The Pressure is On

All that good will and excitement built up from the first week of the season has quickly gone away. In its place, plenty of scrutiny has been placed on the shoulders of two individuals: Blashill and Mantha.

In the case of Mantha, the entire hockey world is still waiting on him to make good on the potential that made him the 20th pick of the 2013 draft. After scoring .88 points per-game last season – a career-high for him – nearly everyone that follows the Red Wings penciled him in for a true breakout year. Equipped with a new four-year deal with a cap hit of $5.7 million, he has instead fallen flat through seven games, collecting just one goal and three points. Make no mistake, everyone, including Mantha himself, is expecting more from him.

In Blashill’s case, it’s no secret that he’s not the most popular figure in Detroit sports. With a roster that, while depleted due to COVID protocol, is certainly more threatening than last year’s group, it is disheartening to see the Red Wings continue to make the same mistakes again and again. Honestly, instead of breaking this topic down in this space, I implore you to check out my colleague Tony Wolak’s piece about why a change in leadership is needed behind the bench.

3. Larkin and Bertuzzi Came to Play

Larkin leads the Red Wings with six points through seven games. Tyler Bertuzzi is right behind him with five points. It’s not just about points, though. Both players are making things happen on the ice, especially when they’re on the ice together.

Larkin and Bertuzzi both see time on both special teams units, and the latter has been especially visible on the penalty kill. In terms of Corsi, Bertuzzi leads all Red Wings skaters that have played in every game this season with a solid 55.7%. The “junkyard dog”, as color commentator Mickey Redmond likes to call him, has been all over the ice and currently averages 20:15 in ice-time.

As for Larkin, you should check this article out.

Upcoming Matchups This Week

Dallas Stars (Jan 28, 8:30 PM ET)

Statistical Leaders (three games):
Goals – Joe Pavelski (three)
Points – Pavelski (eight)
Wins – Anton Khudobin (three)
Save-percentage – Khudobin (.958)

Round two against the Stars picks up tomorrow night at American Airlines Center following last night’s game. As previously mentioned, the Stars have plenty of offensive ability spread throughout their lineup, so I wouldn’t bet on another low-event game. If it becomes another goaltender’s dual, that should increase the Red Wings’ likelihood of coming away with two points on the night.

Florida Panthers (Jan 30, 7:00 PM ET; Jan 31, 5:00 PM ET)

Statistical Leaders (three games):
Goals – Patric Hornqvist (four)
Points – Hornqvist, Carter Verhaeghe (five)
Wins – Sergei Bobrovsky (two)
Save-percentage – Chris Dreidger (.933)

The Panthers have begun their season with three straight victories: two over the Blackhawks and another over the Columbus Blue Jackets. After another mediocre season, changes were made in the front office and on the roster. General manager Bill Zito was brought in from Columbus, and the newest members of their roster include Anthony Duclair, Patric Hornqvist and Carter Verhaeghe among others. Although it’s a small sample size, it appears as though the changes they’ve made have indeed improved their team.

Joel Quenneville Florida Panthers
Joel Quenneville, Florida Panthers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Coach Joel Quenneville is in the midst of his second season behind the bench in Sunrise, Florida, and the expectation is that this team should challenge for one of the Central Division’s four playoff spots. They aren’t going to want to leave points on the board against the Red Wings if they are to accomplish that goal, so expect “Coach Q” to have his troops ready to go from the start of game one.

Last season, the Red Wings were winless in three games against the Panthers, getting outscored 13-5 in the process. In fact, the last time the Red Wings defeated the Panthers was on October 20, 2018. Considering the Panthers’ standing in the NHL, you’d like to see the Red Wings end this losing streak against them. Of course, if there’s one thing that this season seems to suggest about the Red Wings, it’s that you never know which group you’re going to get on a given game-day.

Players to Watch This Week

As far as the Stars are concerned, Pavelski is just four points off from the league-lead in scoring despite playing five fewer games than Connor McDavid and Mitch Marner, who share the league-lead with 12 points. He also recorded an assist on the Stars’ first goal last night, bringing him up to 800 career points. I’m not expecting him to maintain his current 2.67 points per-game average, but I am expecting him to continue to lead Dallas’s offense in the absence of Tyler Seguin and captain Jamie Benn.

Joe Pavelski Dallas Stars
Joe Pavelski, Dallas Stars (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In regards to the Panthers, I’m going to say the $10 million man, Bobrovsky. Despite capturing wins in both of his appearances this season, the two-time Vezina Trophy winner has gotten off to a rough start to this season. In fact, over 52 games thus far with the Panthers, he has a save-percentage of just .899. Since the Red Wings have a knack for making sub-par goaltenders look like all-world talents, I wouldn’t be surprised if “Bob” posts a shutout against Detroit.

Finally, the player to watch for the Red Wings is defenseman Filip Hronek who, despite recording four points through the first seven games, has looked troubling at times. He is averaging over 24 minutes of ice time so far this season, and is generally on the ice when Detroit is sustaining offensive pressure. However, he has yet to truly display his high offensive-IQ, and he is still overmatched against the best players in the league. It will be very interesting to see how he fares against the likes of Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau in Florida.

Final Thoughts

Despite playing at a level that many expected of them, the Red Wings have a lot more to give two weeks into the season. While they’re missing some crucial pieces due to COVID protocol, they still have all of their best players, including Larkin, Mantha and Bertuzzi. If the goal for this season was to become competitive again, then those games against the Blackhawks were inexcusable. This team has another gear, and it’s time for Blashill to unlock it.

In short, I like writing fun things about the Red Wings. All I ask is that they give me fun things to write about.

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