Red Wings Wednesday Weekly: Homeward Bound

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)

It was a sleepy week for the Detroit Red Wings following a dramatic shootout win over the New York Rangers, but things pick up this week, with three straight home games. The anticipation of Jakub Vrána’s return is hitting an all-time high, but that was slightly muted by the news on Tuesday that Dylan Larkin left practice and did not return. Detroit’s captain is in the midst of a breakout campaign, so Hockeytown is holding its collective breath as he’s evaluated, though his presence at Wednesday’s morning skate was welcome news.

As the week gears up, Detroit has its work cut out for it against a set of juggernaut opponents, so let’s dive in and see what’s in store.

Wings Escape MSG With a Win

2/17 at New York Rangers, 3-2 Shootout Win

After a disappointing loss to the Minnesota Wild just a few days earlier, Detroit bounced back in a major way against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. The Red Wings used goals from defenseman Troy Stecher and Larkin to take leads of 1-0 and 2-1, but were unable to hold it in the third, thanks to a Mika Zibanejad power-play goal.

The two battled through a scoreless overtime into a shootout, where goals from Lucas Raymond and Pius Suter helped elevate the Red Wings to their third win in four games. Thomas Greiss was spectacular in net, stopping 37-of-39 shots to earn his eighth win of the season.

Greiss has now won two straight starts, including a 4-2 decision against the Philadelphia Flyers on Feb. 12. The 36-year-old netminder has come on strong as of late, providing some much-needed relief for starter Alex Nedeljkovic.

The win was also an important one for Detroit, and though it’s not likely the Red Wings find themselves in the postseason this year, they continue to play meaningful games past the halfway point of the season for the first time in years. The win over the Rangers, who are almost 20 games over .500, likely goes a long way in mental preparation.

Final Grade vs. Rangers: B

3 Takeaways From the Week

1. Greiss Stepping up

As mentioned earlier, Greiss is having an impact lately between the pipes, and it couldn’t come at a better time. Though the German netminder is just 8-7-1 with a 3.17 goals-against average (GAA) and .902 save percentage (SV%) this season, his recent play has allowed Nedeljkovic to get some much-needed rest.

Thomas Greiss Detroit Red Wings
Thomas Greiss stopped all but two shots against the Rangers last week. (Photo by Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images)

Detroit has earned at least one point in four of his last five starts, dating back to Dec. 18, and he has posted a SV% of at least .923 in four of those five games, as well.

2. Dylan Larkin Exited Practice on Tuesday

Though a mid-day update on Wednesday looked promising, Larkin exited Detroit’s practice on Tuesday and did not return. It’s disappointing news considering the season the Red Wings’ captain is having to this point, and on the heels of Vrana’s return, even moreso.

“He left the ice and so he’s being evaluated,” Detroit coach Jeff Blashill told the media after practice. “I’ll know more [Wednesday]. I don’t have more than that except he wasn’t able to finish the last part of the (power play).”

Fans are holding their collective breath that it was something minor, and the 25-year-old, who has posted 52 points in 46 games, will return without incident. The good news? As of the time of publishing, it appears the injury itself isn’t anything major, as he skated Wednesday morning and was listed as a game-time decision.

3. Will Pieces Be Moved?

Though fans aren’t to be blamed for doing a little daydreaming, the fact is it’s highly unlikely Detroit will compete for a playoff spot as the season winds down. The club is currently 10 points behind the Boston Bruins for the final wild card playoff spot, and the Bruins still have a game in hand.

With that in mind, will the Red Wings sell as the March 21 trade deadline approaches? It’s likely.

Names have been floating around for a while now, but two names that continue to pop up in the Red Wings rumor mill are forward Vladislav Namestnikov, and defenseman Nick Leddy.

Vladislav Namestnikov Detroit Red Wings
Vladislav Namestnikov, Detroit Red Wings (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

It’s certainly easy to see why. Namestnikov is enjoying a resurgence this season, has 23 points on 13 goals and 10 assists in 49 games, and offers a lot of secondary-scoring upside for any teams that are looking to make a deep playoff run. He has missed two games with a lower-body injury, but is expected to be available against Colorado, per coach Jeff Blashill.

Leddy, meanwhile, is a dependable defenseman who has won a Stanley Cup, and the 30-year-old is an attractive option for contenders looking to shore up their blue line prior to postseason play. Detroit may not be as active at the deadline as we’ve seen in years past, but the possibility to see a few moves is certainly likely.

Upcoming Games

vs. Colorado Avalanche (2/23, 7:30 PM ET)

Statistical Leaders (50 Games):
Goals – Mikko Rantanen (26)
Points – Nazem Kadri (63)
Wins – Darcy Kuemper (25)
SV% – Pavel Fancouz (.921)

The league-leading Avalanche kick off Detroit’s three-game homestand, fresh on the heels of a 5-1 loss to the aforementioned Bruins. It was an uncharacteristically bad performance from one of the league’s best teams, and they’ll likely look to get off to a fast start, considering the Red Wings’ extended break.

Mikko Rantanen Colorado Avalanche
Mikko Rantanen, Colorado Avalanche (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

This is the second and final meeting between the two former arch-rivals, after their game on Dec. 20 was postponed due to COVID protocol. Detroit certainly hopes for a more well-rounded effort this time around, considering the Avalanche won the first contest in Denver 7-3, back on Dec. 10. Colorado used three second-period goals to put that one out of reach, with former longtime Wing Darren Helm notching a goal of his own.

at Toronto Maple Leafs (2/26, 7:30 PM ET)

Statistical Leaders (50 Games):
Goals – Auston Matthwea (34)
Points – Matthews (62)
Wins – Jack Campbell (23)
SV% – Campbell (.920)

The Toronto Maple Leafs are mired in a three-game losing streak, including a particularly ugly loss 5-2 loss to the league-worst Montreal Canadiens. Though they’ve scored eight goals over that span, they’ve allowed an eye-popping 15, so look for a concerted shut-down effort against the Red Wings, who have allowed the eighth-most goals this season. Though improved from last season, Detroit still ranks 19th in goals for, and needs to produce consistent offense against a tough opponent.

Related: Coyotes Trade Lyubushkin, Dzingel to Maple Leafs for Ritchie & Draft Pick

Toronto leads the season series 2-0, having won the first two matchups 5-4 and 7-4. Saturday’s game will be the last between the two this season.

at Carolina Hurricanes (3/1, 7:30 PM ET)

Statistical Leaders (50 Games):
Goals – Sebastian Aho (22)
Points – Aho (53)
Wins – Frederik Anderson (27)
SV% – Anderson (.927)

Detroit’s brutal schedule continues next Tuesday against the NHL’s third-best team, the Carolina Hurricanes, who are first in the Metropolitan Division and just two points shy of sharing the league lead. Carolina has won three straight games to this point, and are sixth in the league with 175 goals for, and second with just 121 goals against. Sure, it’s a tough way to close out a homestand, but the friendly confines of Little Caesar’s Arena just may provide a little cushion for the Red Wings, where they are 15-9-3 on the season.

Sebastian Aho Carolina Hurricanes
Sebastian Aho, Carolina Hurricanes (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Grabbing the lead at home is important for the Wings, who are 10-4-1 when scoring first at LCA. Tuesday’s game is the second of three meetings between the clubs, and the Hurricanes won the first go-round 5-3 in Carolina, back on Dec. 16. The two will meet once more, again at Carolina, on April 14.

Players to Watch

The Red Wings’ next three games are a who’s who of production, but with Colorado, keep an eye on leading goal-scorer Mikko Rantenen, who has four points over his last three games. His vision is just as dangerous, as he’s third on the team with 33 assists on the season. Against Toronto, it will be interesting to see how newly acquired Ilya Lyubushkin performs against Detroit’s forwards. He recorded 15:28 time on ice in his Maple Leafs debut, but was held off the scoresheet.

Ilya Lyubushkin Arizona Coyotes
Ilya Lyubushkin, pictured with the Arizona Coyotes, made his Maple Leafs Debut earlier this week. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Hurricanes are so potent on offense that you can take your pick of stars to choose from, but Sebastian Aho is continuing his stellar season, having recorded five points in his last four games. That includes just one goal, but Aho is just as dangerous without the puck, and Detroit cannot lose track of him.

As for the Red Wings, all eyes turn to the goaltending. It makes no difference if Thomas Greiss or Alex Nedeljkovic gets the nod, all of their opponents will each generate a number of high-quality scoring chances, and Detroit needs its netminders to close the door. They’re not going to stop them all, but a key save at a critical moment could help the Wings steal a game or two against their juggernaut slate.

Tough Schedule Continues Beyond This Week

There’s no rest for the weary, as Detroit’s reward for making it through this week’s games are road dates with the defending two-time champion Tampa Bay Lightning, as well as the Stanley Cup-contending Florida Panthers. It’s all the more reason for the club to step up and make the most out of this opportunity, considering opponents of this caliber in the later stages of the season are a natural building block for a team looking to elevate into the next step of its rebuild.

Though the playoffs are likely a pipe dream, the Red Wings have an opportunity to make a statement in the coming week, and the club’s growth this season — or lack thereof — will be much clearer by the time next week’s edition rolls around.