Red Wings Wednesday Weekly: Redemption Begins

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 first week of the 2020-21 season is upon us. The slate is clean, the sticks have been restocked and everyone around “Hockeytown” is excited to see what this season’s version of the Detroit Red Wings will bring to the table. It’s an exciting time, and we can only hope that this energy translates to the team’s play during their first four games of the season.

Since this is the first week, we obviously have no games to recap. Instead, we’re going to begin by offering a quick recap of what the Red Wings did over the course of this offseason.

The Offseason

This was an offseason of change for the Red Wings. Long-time members of the team including Justin Abdelkader and Jimmy Howard are no longer with the club. In their place, general manager Steve Yzerman brought in a boatload of new faces including, but not limited to, defensemen Marc Staal and Jon Merril, forward Bobby Ryan and goaltender Thomas Greiss.

While the NHL negotiated the terms of this abnormal season, the various leagues across Europe began their seasons as they always do. The Red Wings took advantage of this by loaning many of their young players over there to get some game action. While some are forced to finish out the season with their European clubs, others have returned to North America with a pep in their step that can only be provided by playing successful hockey.

Filip Hronek Detroit Red Wings
Filip Hronek got off to a hot start over in the Czech Republic (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Finally, due to the unprecedented situation surrounding this season, a few new terms were added to the NHL’s lexicon.

  • Whether a player is injured, sick or otherwise unable to join their team, the player must be referred to as “unfit to play/practice.” No other specifics will be provided.
  • Every team will have a taxi squad. This is a group of four to six players that will travel and practice with their team, but are not included as part of the roster. These players are essentially a mini-AHL team that the NHL team can pluck from in the event that they need to call a player up. Each team must carry at least three goalies at all times. If a player is waiver-eligible, they must pass through waivers in order to be assigned to the taxi squad or the AHL.
  • Games will be played in a series format similar to the MLB.
  • In the event that a game or games must be postponed, the league is prepared to reschedule those games. However, the league hopes to stick with May 8 as the definitive final day of the season, with the playoffs set to begin on May 11.
  • The trade deadline will be on April 12.

Here’s your roster opening night roster:
Forwards: Filip Zadina, Robby Fabbri, Anthony Mantha, Luke Glendening, Valtteri Filppula, Bobby Ryan, Tyler Bertuzzi, Dylan Larkin, Adam Erne, Frans Nielsen, Mathias Bromé, Sam Gagner, Vladislav Namestnikov
Defense: Alex Biega, Filip Hronek, Marc Staal, Patrik Nemeth, Jon Merrill, Danny DeKeyser, Troy Stecher
Goalies: Thomas Greiss, Jonathan Bernier
Non-Roster: Darren Helm, Christian Djoos
Taxi Squad: (D) Dennis Cholowski, (F) Michael Rasmussen, (D) Gustav Lindstrom, (G) Calvin Pickard, (G) Kevin Boyle, (F) Givani Smith

This Week’s Matchups

The season begins with four-straight games at home, positioning the Red Wings for a good start to the season. However, both of these two-game series feature teams that have designs on making noise in the Central Division this season, beginning with the Carolina Hurricanes on January 14 and 16, followed up by the Columbus Blue Jackets on January 18 and 19.

Carolina Hurricanes

The Hurricanes feature a loaded defense headlined by Dougie Hamilton and Jaccob Slavin. Last season, Carolina allowed just 193 goals through 68 games, good enough for sixth in the league. They have so much depth on the blue line that they have multiple NHL-caliber defenders set to play for their AHL affiliate, the Chicago Wolves, this season.

Up front, their top line of Sebastian Aho, Tuevo Teravainen and Andrei Svechnikov (Evgeny’s brother, but you already knew that) is as good as any line in the league. The key for the Red Wings will be minimizing the damage caused by this trio. Down the lineup, they have 22-year-old Martin Necas who could be in-line for a breakout campaign this season. The 12th pick of the 2017 draft had 36 points through 64 games last season. Fun fact: he is also best friends with the Red Wings’ top pick in the 2018 draft, Filip Zadina.

Andrei Svechnikov, Carolina Hurricanes
Hey! It’s Evgeny’s brother! (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Lastly, the Hurricanes look be running with our old pal Petr Mrazek in goal. Now in his third season in Carolina, he has had a pretty successful run with the Hurricanes, with the pinnacle being a trip to the Eastern Conference Final during his first season. Through 80 regular season games with the Hurricanes, he has 44 wins and a .909 save-percentage. If the Red Wings can get by Carolina’s defense, they’ll face a solid yet flawed goaltender who must get a kick out of defeating Detroit.

While the Red Wings will be undoubtedly motivated to begin their season with a ‘W’, the Hurricanes are among the teams that could come out of the Eastern Conference when all is said and done. It’s going to take strong team defense and opportunistic offense to split this series, let alone win it.

Columbus Blue Jackets

Like the Hurricanes, the Blue Jackets have a strong blue line, though not as deep as Carolina’s. Seth Jones and Zach Werenski lead the way for a group that allowed just 187 goals through 70 games – good enough for third in the league last season. Head coach John Tortorella always preaches strong, dedicated defensive play from his teams, so you can’t judge this team’s defense based solely on their defensemen. The forwards play a role here too.

John Tortorella Blue Jackets bench
John Tortorella, Columbus Blue Jackets bench, Feb. 22, 2018 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Up front, the Blue Jackets return an most of an offense that ranked 28th in the league last season. This is magnified by the ongoing situation with top center Pierre-Luc Dubois, who recently submitted a trade request. They do have solid wingers in Oliver Bjorkstrand and Cam Atkinson, the latter of which has 25 points in 27 games against the Red Wings. Former Red Wing Gustav Nyquist, now with Columbus, begins this year on injured-reserve.

The Blue Jackets return with one of the best goaltending tandems in the league in terms of upside. Both Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins are 26 years old and both posted strong numbers throughout the 2019-20 season. It was Korpisalo, however, the took the ball and ran with it for Columbus in the Toronto playoff bubble, and he set a league record for the most saves in a single game during a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning that took FIVE overtimes to complete. Expect to see both goaltenders, especially since the games are back-to-back.

This is a team that can be exploited. While the Blue Jackets have some pieces ranging from good to great, they have never really made up for the offense that they lost when winger Artemi Panarin skipped town to sign with the New York Rangers. If the Red Wings get good goaltending and show that they can create offense against this team, they are going to be in good shape.

Players to Watch

We’ll start with the Red Wings’ opponents. For the Hurricanes, look out for the aforementioned Necas, as he is kind of the hidden gem amongst Carolina’s offense. He is going to be eager to get off to a good start, especially playing against his best friend. He is currently slated to skate on the team’s second line along with Svechnikov and center Jordan Staal.

Martin Necas Carolina Hurricanes
Watch out for Martin Necas of the Carolina Hurricanes (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

For the Blue Jackets, the nod goes to forward Liam Foudy. The 18th pick of the 2018 draft joined his team for their playoff run last season. He recorded just two points in 10 games, but his young legs really showed as he was able to keep up with the pace of play. He received some time on the team’s top line alongside Dubois, though he eventually showed he wasn’t ready for that kind of responsibility yet. Heading into his rookie campaign, expect him to provide a spark for Columbus in a middle-six role.

For your Detroit Red Wings, I’ve got two names for you: Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha. The team’s two best players are going to be tasked with setting the tone for their team this season. Larkin, in particular, will have the opportunity to lead the way after what was a bit of a disappointing season.

After the Red Wings scored just 145 goals last season, it’s going to be up to these two players – two-thirds of the team’s top line – to produce when no one else is. We’ll see if that is too tall a task for them fairly quickly this season.

Final Word

There are plenty of reasons for optimism this season. The team’s younger players are slowly starting to take the team over. This year’s roster is much deeper than last year’s crew, and that fact should be evident from the get-go. The best part, though, is that the best is yet to come.

In the meantime, enjoy this opening week of Red Wings hockey. It has been 10 months since “Hockeytown” has had a team to cheer on, so even though there’s no fans in the arenas, make sure to cheer loud and proud. You know the chant:

Let’s go Red Wings!

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