Red Wings Wednesday Weekly: Tennessee Whiskey

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.

Despite a promising end to last week, as well as an equally promising start to this week, the Detroit Red Wings, their fans and Beavis and Butthead all have the same goal: they just want to score.

In a week that saw the Red Wings face the Dallas Stars twice and the Nashville Predators once, Detroit had an opportunity to climb out of the basement of the Discover Central Division and firmly announce that this season’s group is a stronger bunch than last season’s. While this week wasn’t a complete disaster, they seem to have squandered the momentum that they had built up over the last couple weeks. Let’s take a look at how they did it.

Stargazing in Detroit

3/18 vs. Dallas; Win, 3-2
3/20 vs. Dallas; Loss, 3-0

Sometimes when you’re feeling a little down on the “Yzerplan”, it helps to remember that the trade was one for one: Jacob de la Rose for Robby Fabbri.

Since joining the Red Wings early last season, Fabbri has cemented himself as a legitimate top six forward on this team. Through 75 games wearing the winged wheel, Fabbri has 23 goals – three of which came during the first game against the Stars. Despite the fact that Detroit was outshot 40-21, the 25-year-old forward proved to be the difference as his offensive outburst paved the way for a 3-2 Red Wings victory. Goaltender Jonathan Bernier left this game with an injury, leaving Thomas Greiss to enter the game right before the end of the second period.

Two nights later, the Stars lulled the Red Wings to sleep with the help of a Anton Khudobin 21-save shutout. Greiss was fine in this one, stopping 30 of 33 shots, but the team in front of him could not muster up any sustained offense over the course of the game. Sam Gagner and Filip Zadina combined for 10 of the Red Wings’ shots. This game was also the season debut for 23-year-old defenseman Dennis Cholowski, who has been tearing it up in the AHL so far this season. Unfortunately, he couldn’t really generate anything during his 12:27 of ice-time.

Dennis Cholowski Detroit Red Wings
A Dennis Cholowski sighting!? (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

A win is a win, but you can’t help but think that some players had more to give in this series. That’s all it takes to miss out on two points in this league.

Overall Grade vs. Dallas: C

Silent in Music City

3/23 at Nashville; Loss, 2-0

If this game was a song, it was the acoustic version. Neither team made a lot of noise – both teams combined for less than 20 quality scoring chances – and it was the Predators that were able to cash in on two of the few chances they did have. Once again, Greiss played fine, stopping 32 of 34 shots, but the team in front of him again failed to put one in the back of the net. While Nashville goaltender Juuse Saros did have to make 31 stops, he didn’t really have to work that hard for them, resulting in his first shutout of the season.

These are the kinds of games that are frustrating to lose because it’s not as if the opposition completely outplayed them. The Red Wings were in this game through the end, despite their inability to generate a sustained offensive threat. This was low-event hockey – the key to Detroit’s success this season – and yet they couldn’t get it done. They need their top players to respond in a big way on Thursday before this scoring drought leads to another long losing streak.

Overall Grade vs. Nashville: D+

3 Takeaways From Last Week’s Games

1. Fabbri’s Hot; the Rest are Not

It has been 180:26 since someone without the last name Fabbri has scored for the Red Wings. That goal was an empty-netter from Filip Hronek to close out the Carolina Hurricanes on March 16. How long since a Red Wing other than Fabbri scored on a goalie? 228:15 – Adam Erne’s second goal in the first period of that same game against the Hurricanes. In fact, the only thing longer than the Red Wings’ collective goal drought is Zack Snyder’s Justice League. Someone needs to alert the authorities because almost all of the Red Wings’ forwards have gone missing.

Robby Fabbri Detroit Red Wings
Robby Fabbri has been productive for the Detroit Red Wings (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

As for Fabbri, he has five goals in his last five games, though three came in that first game against the Stars. He leads the Red Wings with nine goals this season, and he’s currently producing at a career-best pace. His move from center to the left wing has boosted his production, and head coach Jeff Blashill would be wise to ride this momentum while it lasts.

2. Bernier’s Out Again

The Red Wings are without their top goaltender again as Bernier had to leave the first game against the Stars due to a lower-body injury. The 32-year-old netminder also missed some time at the beginning of February due to a lower body injury sustained during game action. Through 17 games this season, he has eight wins, a 2.78 goals against average (GAA) and a save percentage (SV%) of .918.

In Bernier’s absence this season (due to injury or simply a night off) Greiss has just two wins, a GAA of 3.36 and a SV% of .889. While the German netminder isn’t entirely to blame for the Red Wings’ struggles without Bernier, he hasn’t done enough this season to qualm any concerns about a potential Bernier trade ahead of this season’s trade deadline. Quite frankly, the sooner this injury runs its course, the better off Detroit will be.

3. Cholowski Plays!

For the first time since March 2, 2020, the 20th pick of the 2016 draft skated in the NHL. While he’s only averaged 14:26 of ice time through his first two games this season, he has looked fine in the time he saw this week. His calling card is and always will be the offensive side of his game, but he hasn’t looked out of place defensively so far.

Dennis Cholowski Grand Rapids Griffins
Dennis Cholowski with the Grand Rapids Griffins (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

The Red Wings sent him to Grand Rapids of the AHL in order to focus on becoming an elite player on the power play – and to his credit, he went and did it. He has seen some time on Detroit’s power play through his first two games, but he hasn’t been able to produce offense to this point. The clock is ticking for Cholowski, and making the most out of this opportunity could be the key to extending his time in the Red Wings organization.

Upcoming Matchups

@ Nashville Predators (3/25, 8 PM ET)

Statistical Leaders (33 Games):
Goals – Filip Forsberg (11)
Points – Forsberg (28)

Wins – Pekka Rinne (eight)
SV% – Saros (.919)

The Predators are suddenly back in the playoff hunt in the Discover Central Division. They’re nipping at the heels of the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Chicago Blackhawks, and a sweep in this series against Detroit will only help their cause. Now whether that’s a good thing for them in the long-term is another topic for another day.

After shutting out the Red Wings in the first game, you have to think that Saros will man the net again for Nashville. As for their leading scorer, Forsberg was noticeably quiet in the first game, and has just one point in his last five games. Based on his production this season, the Red Wings have to expect that he’ll be looking to get back on the scoresheet. Keeping him quiet without leaving too much room for Nashville’s other scorers will be one of the keys to victory in this game.

Columbus Blue Jackets (3/27, 3 PM ET; 3/28, 3 PM ET)

Statistical Leaders (33 Games):
Goals – Oliver Bjorkstrand, Cam Atkinson (11)
Points – Bjorkstrand (27)
Wins – Joonas Korpisalo (eight)
SV% – Elvis Merzlikins (.912)

The Blue Jackets have also resurrected their playoff hopes after a rough few weeks that had some pundits ready to write them off. With 12 points in their last 10 games, they are now just two points behind the Blackhawks for the final playoff spot in the division. If there’s one thing we should have learned about this team based on the last two years, it’s to not count them out until the last game is played.

John Tortorella Columbus Blue Jackets
John Tortorella and the Columbus Blue Jackets are back in the playoff hunt (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Head coach John Tortorella has yet to find a lineup that he likes, as the top center in Columbus varies from game to game. Star winger Patrik Laine has already visited his new coach’s doghouse, and defenseman Zack Werenski isn’t producing at the clip we’re all used to. Make no mistake: this is a team whose dysfunction is exploitable, but it’s not always easy to do so. It certainly helps when a guy like Bjorkstrand is having himself a career year, and both of the team’s goalies are capable of stealing a game.

Columbus has won two of the first three meetings between these two teams this season.

@ Florida Panthers (3/30, 7 PM ET)

Statistical Leaders (32 Games):
Goals – Aleksander Barkov (13)
Points – Barkov (37)
Wins – Sergei Bobrovsky (12)
SV% – Chris Driedger (.923)

A quarter of the Panthers’ losses this season have come at the hands of the Red Wings. That fact alone should give fans some optimism heading into this contest, but a win is far from a given. Florida has held one of the top three spots in the division pretty much all season, and they have outscored Detroit 17-13 through six meetings this season. This game marks the first game of the final series between these teams this season.

Barkov and winger Jonathan Huberdeau continue to power the Panthers’ offense. Shutting them down will go a long way to ensuring the Red Wings come away with another victory against coach Joel Quenneville’s team. Despite Bobrovsky’s inconsistent play during his time with the Panthers, Florida has continued to find ways to win with him in net. His back-up, Driedger, has a .932 SV% against Detroit this season; should the Red Wings face him in this game/series, they likely need to beat him early if they hope to have success.

Players to Watch

As I already mentioned, Forsberg has been a little too quiet for the Predators as of late. Despite the recent scoring drought, he is still collecting points at the second-best rate of his career, with a points per-game (P/G) rate of .85. He is arguably the most dynamic player in Predators history, and it won’t be long before he starts putting up points again. The Red Wings just have to hope he starts scoring again after tomorrow’s game.

Filip Forsberg Nashville Predators
Filip Forsberg, Nashville Predators (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

In regards to Columbus, my eyes will be on 24-year-old center Jack Roslovic. The native of Columbus has enjoyed his homecoming after the Winnipeg Jets traded him along with Laine in exchange for center Pierre-Luc Dubois. He has 20 points through 26 games – easily the best scoring rate of his young career – and has seen time as the Blue Jackets’ top center. To some extent, he has been the better player of the two Columbus received for their former top center, and that’s high praise considering Laine’s reputation and potential. If Tortorella’s team is scoring in this series against Detroit, expect Roslovic to be involved.

Finally, I’ll be watching Huberdeau of the Panthers because I’ve always liked his game, going back to his draft year when he was the third overall selection of the 2011 draft. With 473 points through 568 games, he has already broken the franchise record for most points in a Panthers uniform. He has a knack for finding the open man, and his offensive creativity makes him a threat whenever he has the puck on his stick. This is the kind of winger the Red Wings need, and they hope they have in 2020 top pick Lucas Raymond.

Final Thoughts

The Red Wings’ win column finally hit double digits this week. While the win total isn’t exactly where you might want it to be, there are plenty of reasons to believe that Detroit can match their 17 wins from last season. They need to start scoring, but their ability to play low-event hockey is putting them in a position to win hockey games this season.

And if you’re still down about the Red Wings’ play this season, look at it this way: at least they’re not the Sabres.

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