Red Wings Wednesday Weekly: Philadelphia Freedom

Welcome back 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.

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

With 50 points through 50 games this season, the Detroit Red Wings finished another week at .500. That points-percentage places them 10th in the Eastern Conference, and 23rd in the NHL overall. For those of you with the 2022 draft on your mind, the Red Wings sit with the 10th-best odds at securing the top pick in the draft.

Despite the team’s current spot in the standings, the Red Wings had a pretty successful week. They did something that no other Red Wings team has been able to do in the regular season since January 1997. They were able to go toe-to-toe with one of the elite teams in the Western Conference. Though their overall record has them treading water, this week was one that the team should be able to build on as their remaining schedule looks tougher and tougher.

Seider, Red Wings Bail Out Nedeljkovic on Rare Off Night

2/9 at. Philadelphia Flyers, 6-3 win

The Philadelphia Flyers have not had a good season. After this week, they hold a 15-24-8 record and are well on their way to trading their captain and ensuring that they end up with a top-10 pick in this year’s draft. While it might have been easy to write off the Flyers, the Red Wings could not afford to take the Flyers lightly. Despite their spot in the standings, the Red Wings believe that they can push for the playoffs, and games against bottom-feeders in the East such as the Flyers have to fall into the “W” column if their playoff push is legitimate.

In their first game back from the All-Star break, the Red Wings looked the part of the better team, outshooting the Flyers 33-24 and generally looked like a more organized group on the ice. Despite the layoff and the relatively light workload, goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic had an off game by his standards, stopping just 21 of 24 shots. That was the fifth time in his last seven appearances where he posted a save-percentage (SV%) lower than .900. While the 26-year-old was not at his best on this night, the rest of his teammates were.

Alex Nedeljkovic Detroit Red Wings
Alex Nedeljkovic, Detroit Red Wings (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Rookie defenseman Moritz Seider was a standout during this game. To go along with his two assists on the night, he also played exceptionally strong defense, especially during a penalty kill shift where he singlehandedly killed off approximately 40 seconds on the Flyers’ power play:

This is the kind of stuff that Red Wings fans are starting to get used to when it comes to Seider. While he’s not as flashy as a certain Anaheim Ducks rookie, there’s little doubt that the German defender is a legitimate top defender in the NHL at the age of 20, and he’ll be giving opponents headaches for years to come. When your goalie isn’t at the top of his game, you have to hope that the team in front of him – especially the defense – will step up, and that’s exactly what happened. This was an entertaining game from start to finish, and the Red Wings earned themselves a solid victory – their first regular season win in regulation time in the city of Philadelphia since 1997.

Final Grade vs. Philadelphia (Part One): B+

Greiss Steals the Show in Rematch

2/12 vs. Philadelphia Flyers, 4-2 win

On the most recent episode of The Hockey Writers’ Grind Line, we pondered Nedeljkovic’s workload and whether or not backup goaltender Thomas Greiss was a solution to the problem or part of it. Well, after his performance against the Flyers on Saturday afternoon, it’s fair to wonder if he watched the episode. He stopped 32 of 34 shots, including a few remarkable saves in the opening period, and was a big reason why the Red Wings went on to secure back-to-back victories against the Flyers.

Winger Filip Zadina also made his presence known in this game as he scored the Red Wings’ second goal of the night, his sixth goal of the season, by getting the puck in the slot and ripping it past Flyers goalie Carter Hart. The goal marked his second goal and fourth point in his past six games. The 22-year-old has been a lot more visible since joining Dylan Larkin and Lucas Raymond on the team’s top line, and that was never more true than his goal in this game. Speaking of Larkin, he finished this game with three assists, maintaining his over point-per-game pace (more on that in a bit.)

Final Grade vs. Philadelphia (Part Two): B

Things Get Wild in Minnesota

2/14 at Minnesota Wild, 7-4 loss

This was one of those games where if you were channel surfing or you just had other things going on, the status of the game changed every time you checked back in on the game. After roaring out to a 2-0 lead within the first five minutes of the game, the Red Wings conceded their lead and the game was tied up at 2-2 before the halfway mark of the first period. Larkin opened up the scoring before defenseman Gustav Lindstrom scored his first NHL goal to put the Red Wings up 2-0.

Related: Red Wings’ Gustav Lindstrom Has Been Underappreciated in 2021-22

The Wild were able to gain the lead and stretch it out to 5-2 eight minutes into the third period. The Red Wings fought back, making it 5-4 with goals from Raymond and Sam Gagner, but that was it for Detroit’s scoring. Minnesota added two more goals, including an empty-net goal by Ryan Hartman, to secure the 7-4 victory. Nedeljkovic returned to the crease for this game, but registered an ugly SV% of .750, saving just 18 out of 24 shots against.

While it was nice to see the Red Wings fight back and keep themselves in the game against one of the league’s best, allowing seven goals against is not a formula for success. It’s kind of funny – for as much as the Red Wings’ offensive play has improved this season, it seems like their defensive play has really taken a step back from where it was last season. This game against the Wild was just the latest example.

Final Grade vs. Minnesota: D+

3 Takeaways From the Week

1. Larkin’s Production is Underrated League-Wide

After all that chatter on social media and in the comments section during the offseason about how Larkin wasn’t good enough to a first line center, he’s really making sure that those types of comments are never uttered again. Not only does Larkin have an outstanding 51 points in 45 games (1.13 points per-game) but with 25 goals so far this season, he ranks ahead of players like Connor McDavid, David Pastrnak, Kirill Kaprizov and Steven Stamkos, just to name a few.

Dylan Larkin Detroit Red Wings
Dylan Larkin, Detroit Red Wings (Photo by Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images)

A 40-goal, 80-point season is within reach for the Red Wings’ captain. His current career-high is 32 goals and 73 points, both set during the 2018-19 season. Larkin most likely isn’t going to win any hardware this season, but his play should earn him a few votes for the Selke Trophy (awarded to the NHL’s top defensive forward) and possibly even the Hart Trophy (awarded to the league’s MVP). Not enough people outside of those who follow the Red Wings are talking about his season, but that’s by no fault of his own. He needed a bounce-back season in 2021-22, and boy has he had one.

2. Is it Time to Worry About Ned?

Over his last 10 appearances, Nedeljkovic has a .878 SV% to go along with a 4-4-1 record. Overall this season, he has a 14-14-5 record, a .907 SV% and a 3.01 goals-against average (GAA). These numbers are not pretty – let’s call it what it is – but they don’t exactly tell the whole story.

Nedeljkovic has played in all but 10 games since Nov. 1, and he has appeared in 36 out of Detroit’s 50 games so far this season. That’s a lot of action, even for a 26-year-old. Three weeks ago, this column suggested that maybe he was starting to see some fatigue creep into his game. Since then, nothing has changed, and his stats have continued their steady descent. For as many games as he has stolen for the Red Wings this season, it now seems like he’s getting bailed out by his teammates just as much.

It will be interesting to see how the Red Wings’ coaching staff handles this situation. Do they stick with him and hope that he works his way out of this funk? Do they let him sit and let Greiss carry the load for a little while? If the Red Wings are going to finish strong this season, they’ll need “Ned” at his best, so getting him back at that level should be one of the team’s top priorities.

3. Vrana’s Return Will Create Interesting Lineup Decisions

As you may have heard, winger Jakub Vrana is (potentially) close to returning to the Red Wings’ lineup. After scoring eight goals in 11 games with Detroit last season, he has been the missing piece of the Red Wings’ offense since before the season began as the Czech forward underwent shoulder surgery in the Fall. Adding another top six winger to the roster is sure to help the team win games, but how they go about incorporating him into the lineup will be interesting to watch.

Jakub Vrana Detroit Red Wings
Jakub Vrana, Detroit Red Wings (Photo by Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images)

The recently-formed second line of Robby Fabbri-Pius Suter-Tyler Bertuzzi has given the Red Wings’ a source of secondary scoring that they haven’t had in quite some time. The third line of Vladislav Namestnikov-Michael Rasmussen-Adam Erne gives Detroit a checking line that has had success in terms of forechecking and creating offensive pressure. The top line of Zadina-Larkin-Raymond has helped reinvigorate Zadina’s game and gives Detroit a quality top line.

Related: Red Wings’ Vrana Poised to Make an Impact Upon Return

So where does Vrana fit in? Head coach Jeff Blashill’s answer to that question will be a big focus in Hockeytown once Vrana is cleared for contact.

Upcoming Games

at New York Rangers (2/17, 7 PM ET)

Statistical Leaders (47 Games):
Goals – Chris Kreider (33)
Points – Artemi Panarin (52)
Wins – Igor Shesterkin (22)
SV% – Shesterkin (.937)

The Red Wings’ only game this week comes against an Original Six rival, the New York Rangers. This will be the first time the two teams have met since Feb. 1, 2020. This will also be the first time we get to see Seider and Raymond take on Kaapo Kakko and Alexis Lafrenière, both of which were selected ahead of the Red Wings rookies in their respective draft classes.

After bringing in Gerard Gallant as the team’s new head coach, the Rangers are enjoying a highly successful season. They sit third in the Metropolitan Division with a record of 30-13-4, including a 15-4-2 record on their home ice at Madison Square Garden. After falling short against the Wild, the Red Wings will want to play a smart, defensive game against the Rangers with hopes that they can contain the Rangers’ top scorers.

Players to Watch

Defenseman Adam Fox is the reigning Norris Trophy winner and is frequently mentioned alongside Colorado Avalanche defender Cale Makar as the best young defenseman in the game. He has 47 points in 44 games this season while averaging more than 24 minutes of ice-time per game. From the Red Wings’ perspective, this offers Seider an opportunity to observe one of his contemporaries and see what makes Fox a Norris-caliber defenseman.

Adam Fox New York Rangers
Adam Fox, New York Rangers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Red Wings have to be pleased with Raymond‘s play as of late. Despite his scoring pace slowing down, he still manages to create opportunities. His strong offensive work has been rewarded recently as he has two goals and four points in his last three games. Overall, he has three goals and 11 points since the turn of the new year, a stretch of 18 games. Even when he’s not scoring, he continues to have an impact on any given game.

Red Wings Remaining Schedule Only Getting Tougher

It was important for the Red Wings to get the win in both games against the Flyers because Detroit is running out of “easy” games in their schedule.

With the trade deadline just a little over a month away, not only do the Red Wings have a difficult stretch of games ahead of them, but there’s also a very real chance that general manager Steve Yzerman is going to unload some of the team’s players to start adding additional future assets to their stockpile. The schedule is getting tougher while the team is, theoretically, getting weaker (though adding Vrana would definitely be a step in the other direction.)

I’m not saying it’s time to start expecting to see the losses pile up; I’m just saying that any wins the Red Wings collect over the next month are going to be well-earned. Buckle up, folks – it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

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