Red Wings Wednesday Weekly: Learn to Fly

Welcome back to Detroit 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)

After a rough few weeks following the trade deadline, the Red Wings seem to have steadied the ship over the last couple of weeks. Sure, they’re still losing far more than they’re winning, but that’s to be expected, and the losses aren’t nearly as ugly as they were the last time I wrote this column. Needless to say, the Red Wings seem to have a bit more life in them as they continue to stay in games rather than get blown out of them.

This week saw the Red Wings have an opportunity to collect six points and further cement their fifth place standing in the Atlantic Division. Instead, they only captured half of those points, and suddenly teams like the Buffalo Sabres and the Ottawa Senators are knocking on their door in the divisional standings – not that that is necessarily a bad thing as we slowly begin to turn our attention towards the 2022 draft. Let’s take a look at how things played out this week.

Red Wings > Jet Wings

4/6 at Winnipeg Jets, 3-1 win

In some ways, it was almost upsetting to see how well the Red Wings played in this game. Not because of draft positioning or anything like that, but because this game ultimately meant a lot more for the Jets than it did for the Red Wings; if Detroit had given a lot more efforts like this north of the border this season, I’d probably be writing about a team that would STILL be hovering around .500 for the season. Still, it was awesome to see the team in red put forth a great effort and secure a hard-fought win, more than likely ending the Jets’ playoff hopes in the process – on the second night of a back-to-back no less.

Veteran forward Sam Gagner recorded two goals in this game, which were goals 10 and 11 for him on the season. That marked the first time since the 2017-18 season that he hit a double-digit goal total. Team captain Dylan Larkin recorded two assists, and goaltender Thomas Greiss put forth a really strong effort, stopping 32 out of 33 shots. This was a fairly even tilt, but the Jets just couldn’t break through. The Red Wings earn a ton of credit for their play in this game.

Final Grade vs. Jets: A

Blue Jackets Win Latest Round of Michigan-Ohio Matchup

4/9 vs. Columbus Blue Jackets, 5-4 loss (OT)

Let’s face it: some games are more enjoyable than others. This game between the Blue Jackets and the Red Wings was the type of game that you hope to have on your hands when you’re showing somebody the game of hockey for the first time. It was a back and forth contest that featured plenty of offense, some quality saves from the goalies, and even a bit of nastiness between two teams representing two states that are known for their disdain of each other. Despite a high-quality game, Red Wings fans were left with a sour taste in their mouths as Columbus emerged victorious from this one.

Related: Blue Jackets & Red Wings Make Perfect Rivals Moving Forward

If it weren’t for Jack Roslovic’s hat trick, the conversation probably would have been dominated by the play of Detroit winger Jakub Vrana, who scored two goals in this game. With his 10th goal in 16 games this season (at the time), the 26-year-old has been an absolute goal-scoring machine for the Red Wings since coming over in the Anthony Mantha trade. This game put him at 18 goals through 27 games with the Red Wings, an unheard of scoring pace for any Red Wing during their rebuild. Aside from Vrana’s standout performance, the defensive pairing of Jordan Oesterle and Gustav Lindstrom both finished with a team-leading plus/minus rating of plus-3.

Final Grade vs. Blue Jackets: B-

Senators Sweep Season Series

4/12 vs. Ottawa Senators, 4-1 loss

Through 40 minutes, this game was a tightly-contested affair. The Senators lead 2-1, with Tyler Bertuzzi’s 27th goal of the season giving the Red Wings life in this game. Unfortunately, that’s all the offense could muster as Ottawa goaltender Anton Forsberg stood tall, stopping 24 out of 25 Red Wing shots.

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

The highlight to come out of this game was that Moritz Seider recorded his 41st assist, putting him just eight assists behind Nicklas Lidstrom’s rookie total – a total that stands as a franchise record. The Red Wings had their chances in his game, but they couldn’t sustain pressure consistently enough to give Forsberg a run for his money. Greiss delivered his third-straight solid performance for the Red Wings, but it wasn’t enough as two empty net goals from Tim Stützle put the game away.

Final Grade vs. Senators: C-

3 Takeaways From the Week

1. Greiss Seems to be Finishing Strong

Through his last three starts, Greiss holds a save-percentage (SV%) of .938 as he has stopped 91 of 97 shots thrown at him. That’s about as good as a stretch as he has had this season. Through 28 games this season, he holds a record of 9-13-1, a goals-against average (GAA) of 3.56 and a SV% .892.

Greiss’s struggles this season have been well-documented, with some of the blame for Alex Nedeljkovic’s second-half struggles resting at Greiss’s feet. The 36-year-old German goaltender is in the final year of his contract and, while he likely doesn’t figure into Detroit’s plans next season, he’ll want to finish strong to show he still has something left in the tank in order to entice another team to give him a contract for next season. While this is a classic case of “too little, too late”, if the Red Wings want to finish strong this season, it may be worthwhile to give Greiss a few more looks.

2. The Moose is Loose

Forward Michael Rasmussen has been on one over the last couple of weeks. He has four goals in his last seven games, and he generally looks a lot more confident with the puck on his stick. That was never more evident than it was in the game against the Senators. In the first period, he found the puck deep in the offensive zone, brought it towards the crease, and then delayed just a moment to adjust onto his forehand and pick his target with the shot. While he didn’t score on the play, it was a quality chance from a guy that is showing flashes of becoming the 6-foot-6 power forward that the Red Wings envisioned when they selected him in the 2017 draft.

Aside from his recent offensive outburst, Rasmussen has actually been a solid defensive force for the Red Wings this season. He has 25 takeaways this season (versus just 15 giveaways), his face-off win-percentage sits just below 50 percent, and his 119 hits this season ranks third on the team behind only Seider and Adam Erne. Slowly but surely, “Ras” is developing into a key bottom six contributor for this team.

3. Sam Gagner Continues Solid Tenure with the Red Wings

Since being included in the deal that sent Andreas Athanasiou to the Edmonton Oilers in 2020, Gagner has been better than advertised during his time with the Red Wings. The 32-year-old now has 20 goals and 44 points through 120 games with Detroit while averaging just over 14 minutes of ice time. Tied with Carter Rowney for the distinction of being Detroit’s oldest forward, Gagner is certainly one of the team’s leaders without a letter, and it was nice to see his goal total hit double-digits this week.

Sam Gagner Detroit Red Wings
Sam Gagner, Detroit Red Wings (Photo by Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images)

The thing about Gagner is that he understands where he is at in his NHL career, and he embraces being a mentor for the Red Wings’ younger players. As a bottom six forward that spends the majority of his time on the team’s fourth line, he has been a solid source of depth production and solid defense since joining the Red Wings. On a contract that pays him just $850k this season, Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman has an interesting decision ahead of him regarding whether or not to bring the 15-year veteran back for another season.

Upcoming Games

at Carolina Hurricanes (4/14, 7 PM ET)

Statistical Leaders (74 Games):
Goals – Sebastian Aho (34)
Points – Aho (75)
Wins – Frederik Andersen (35)
SV% – Andersen (.926)

Arguably the best team in the NHL, the Hurricanes are 6-3-1 in their last 10 games and have punched their ticket to the playoffs. Next up is clinching the Metropolitan Division crown, and a win against the Red Wings would keep them on track to do just that. Furthermore, Carolina will want to avenge their last meeting against Detroit where they suffered a 4-3 overtime loss on March 1.

Simply put: this game isn’t going to be an easy one for the Red Wings. Despite the fact that they’ve been playing a lot better over the last week and a half or so, this game could get out of hand quickly if the Hurricanes press hard enough. Absolutely nobody wearing the winged wheel can take a night off in this one.

at New York Rangers (4/16, 12:30 PM ET)

Statistical Leaders (74 Games):
Goals – Chris Kreider (50)
Points – Artemi Panarin (88)
Wins – Igor Shesterkin (34)
SV% – Shesterkin (.934)

Speaking of the Metropolitan Division crown, the team chasing the Hurricanes for that honor is the Rangers. Currently just four points behind Carolina, the Original Six team from the Big Apple has also punched their ticket to the playoffs, and a few more wins will guarantee them a home-ice advantage in the first round. Needless to say, the Rangers should come into this game eager to collect two points.

Gerard Gallant, New York Rangers
Gerard Gallant, head coach of the New York Rangers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The last time these two teams met up was on March 30, a game that went to overtime and resulted in a 5-4 victory for the team in blue. The Red Wings won the prior matchup between these two Original Six foes, so the team that wins this one will come away victorious in the season series. Like the game against the Hurricanes, the Red Wings have to show up and be ready to play in this one if they hope to secure two points.

vs. Florida Panthers (4/17, 1 PM ET)

Statistical Leaders (73 Games):
Goals – Aleksander Barkov (34)
Points – Jonathan Huberdeau (105)
Wins – Sergei Bobrovsky (35)
SV% – Bobrovsky (.911)

The Panthers are the top team in the Atlantic Division and are just a few points away from securing the top seed in the division. In fact, a win in this game could be the magic bullet that secures the division for Florida. Meanwhile, the Red Wings may very well enter this game in a position to secure a top 10 pick in the upcoming draft – just don’t tell that to the players.

Related: Panthers’ Spencer Knight Should Get Chance to Start in Playoffs

On the second day of a back-to-back, the Red Wings will need to find an effort similar to the one they put forth against the Jets this week if they want to surprise the Panthers. If there is one area the Red Wings could look to exploit in this game, it’s the Panthers’ goaltending. Bobrovsky hasn’t looked as sharp over the last month or so, and rookie backup Spencer Knight has not shown the same level of goaltending that he flashed in the Panthers’ opening round matchup against the Tampa Bay Lightning in last year’s playoffs. If Detroit can score early in this one, this game could be a fun one.

at Tampa Bay Lighting (4/19, 7 PM ET)

Statistical Leaders (73 Games):
Goals – Steven Stamkos (32)
Points – Stamkos (80)
Wins – Andrei Vasilevskiy (35)
SV% – Vasilevskiy, Brian Elliott (.918)

Speaking of the Lightning, the two-time reigning champions are currently jockeying with the Boston Bruins to determine which team will hold the third seed in the Atlantic Division (which likely translates to a first round matchup against the Toronto Maple Leafs). Just like the other three games this week, the two points on the line will mean something for Detroit’s opponent, so the Red Wings cannot afford to put forth anything less than their best effort.

Jon Cooper Tampa Bay Lightning
Jon Cooper, head coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Whichever goaltender didn’t face the Panthers the day before will more than likely man the crease against the Lightning. Whether that’s Greiss or Nedeljkovic, the Red Wings will need to rely on their goalie to make some early saves in this one to allow the team to find their game legs after facing the Panthers the day before. Out of all the games on the schedule this week, this one has the biggest blowout potential.

Players to Watch

*deep breath*

For the Hurricanes, look out for trade deadline acquisition Max Domi, who has four points in 11 games since joining Carolina. He’s known to be a bit of a pest on the ice while also being able to provide offense lower in the lineup. He’s the type of player that can burn you if you’re not paying attention to him.

The Rangers continue to see great play from one of their trade deadline acquisitions: Michigan-native Andrew Copp. The 27-year-old forward has 12 points in 11 games with the Rangers so far, and he has shown some solid chemistry with Panarin. As a pending free agent, it will be interesting to see if New York allows him to hit the open market if Copp’s strong play continues.

Sticking with the theme of trade deadline acquisitions, this will be the Red Wings’ first and only chance to get a look at Claude Giroux in a Panthers uniform before the end of the season. As the right winger on Florida’s second line, he has produced 12 points through 11 games while playing alongside Huberdeau and center Sam Bennett. This might be the best second line in the NHL.

Claude Giroux Florida Panthers
Claude Giroux, Florida Panthers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

In 13 games with the Lightning, winger Brandon Hagel has produced three goals while playing much less than he was with the Chicago Blackhawks. He was brought in to basically become Tampa Bay’s newest version of Barclay Goodrow or Blake Coleman, third-line acquisitions that were key to their back-to-back championships. In three games against the Red Wings this season, he has a goal and an assist.

For the Red Wings, all eyes have to be on Vrana to see if he can continue his torrid scoring pace. It is not hyperbole to suggest that he could score 40 goals for the Red Wings next season if he remains healthy. That sort of prediction becomes a lot more credible if he can pot a few more goals between now and the rest of the season.

Red Wings’ Season Winding Down

After this week, the Red Wings will have just five games left in their season. It’s a little crazy to think about, but this season that has been filled with some high highs and some low lows is almost over. There are just two games left to play at Little Caesars Arena.

All of this is to say that now is the time to cherish the Red Wings while they’re still playing. A long offseason is just around the corner. While the thought of the draft and other offseason events is sure to get fans excited, we’ve only got a couple more weeks to let out as many “woo’s” and “let’s go Red Wings” as you can.

So for the last nine games of the season, let’s hear both, loud and proud.

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