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.
The polarizing cheer often heard echoing around Little Caesar’s Arena was alive and well on Tuesday, indicative of something that’s been hard to come by for the Detroit Red Wings lately.
Last week’s slate of games followed a familiar script in Hockeytown, as the losses piled up yet again. Yesterday, though, the club snapped its 0-4-2 slide with an emphatic come-from-behind win over the Boston Bruins. Those have been hard to come by for the Red Wings lately, who were 2-10-3 heading into Tuesday’s game, and had been outscored 26-10 in their last four games.
The road to its first win in a while was a bumpy one, so let’s dive in to the week that was.
Losing Streak Reaches Six Before Finally Earning a Win
3/30 vs. New York Rangers, 5-4 overtime loss
Fresh off an embarrassing 11-2 shellacking against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Detroit hosted the Rangers desperately needing a bounce-back game. Adam Erne’s fifth goal of the season gave the Red Wings a one-goal lead nearly six minutes into the third period, and it looked like they may squeak out a win against one of the league’s more talented teams.
It was not meant to be. Chris Kreider’s power-play goal, his 46th tally of the season, tied the game with 3:38 to play in the game, and newly-acquired forward Andrew Copp scored the game-winner 1:34 into overtime.
Just like that, Detroit’s slide continued.
The Red Wings and Rangers meet up one last time this season, on April 16 at Madison Square Garden. The two have split the season series to this point, and each game has gone into an extra frame (Detroit won 3-2 in a shootout on Feb. 17)
Final Grade vs. Rangers: C+
4/1 vs. Ottawa Senators, 5-2 loss
The Red Wings got two goals from Lucas Raymond in the game, but that’s about all that went right in the first of a home-and-home set against the Senators. Tied 1-1 heading into the third, Ottawa scored four of the next five goals en route to the 5-2 win, and Mathieu Joseph recorded his first career hat trick in the process.
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Alex Nedelkjovic got the nod, and stopped 27 of 31 shots in the loss. The game, though, was also a precursor of what was to come.
Final Grade vs.Senators: D
4/3 at Senators, 5-2 loss
No, you’re not seeing double — and it gets worse.
Not only did the Red Wings lose to the Senators 5-2 — again — but as if he were taking a page from Joseph’s book, Josh Norris recorded his first-career hat trick. Thomas Greiss got the nod the second time around, and he stopped 31 of 34, but Detroit’s offense sputtered yet again.
The Red Wings were 0-for-2 on the power play, and and were outshot 36-32.
The Senators have now won both games this season between the two clubs, with one last game next Tuesday.
Final Grade vs. Senators: D
4/5 vs. Boston Bruins, 5-3 win
Detroit desperately needed a win, and after falling into an early first period 2-0 hole against the Bruins, things weren’t looking good. The Red Wings rallied, though, and ultimately won a chippy contest with the exact elements that seemed to be lacking during their 0-4-2 stretch: timely scoring, grit, and superb goaltending.
Took long enough.
Goals from Dylan Larkin, Michael Rasmussen, Filip Zadina, Jakub Vrana, and Sam Gagner got the “woos” going in the crowd again, but Nedeljkovic ensured Detroit’s first win in seven games with a stellar 47-save effort, which is the most the 26-year-old netminder has ever made in a single game. He also had an assist — his second apple of the season.
Detroit and Boston split the season series 2-2, with each team winning one at home and one on the road.
Final Grade vs. Bruins: B
3 Takeaways From the Week
1. Jakub Vrana is Truly Impressive
The Red Wings’ offense took a big blow in training camp when Vrana went down with a shoulder injury, and since his return on March 8, it’s easy to see why. The 26-year-old forward has eight goals and four assists in 14 games, and is electrifying to watch any time he maneuvers around with the puck.
His power-play goal on Tuesday was particularly pretty, as he sliced through the defense and chipped the puck up and over Boston goalie Jeremy Swayman.
His assist on Filip Zadina’s goal earlier in the game was a perfect across-ice pass in the zone, which Zadina buried past Swayman. The goal ended up being the game-winner for the Red Wings, and was yet another indication of the confidence Vrana brings to the lineup.
2. A Taxing Season is Winding Down
The 2021-22 season was supposed to be another step forward in Detroit’s from-the-ground-up rebuild, and in some senses, it was. Lucas Raymond and Moritz Seider have both dazzled in their first year of NHL hockey, and the Red Wings were competitive much longer into the season than anyone had anticipated.
After hovering around .500 for much of the season, the young club seemingly hit a wall in early March. The Red Wings are 3-10-3 since a 3-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on March 4, and some of those losses have been ugly. (See: 9-2 loss to the Arizona Coyotes, 11-2 loss to the Penguins).
Detroit’s regression this spring isn’t a complete surprise, considering this is the first time a number of these players have had to trek through a complete NHL season. That said, the next few weeks of play are vital to the development of young players on the roster, who will learn what it’s like to play against contenders tuning up for a playoff run.
3. They’re Still Battling For Each Other
Despite the team’s recent struggles in the win/loss columns, the level of grit displayed on Tuesday shows the Red Wings are still very much playing for each other as the season winds down. Fans can always expect a series of dust-ups when the Bruins are in town, and yesterday’s game was no exception.
Look no further than an incident in the third period, when captain Dylan Larkin and Boston pest Brad Marchand got into a bit of a cross-check/slashing battle. Moments after Marchand caught Larkin on the shoulder with a slash, teammates Tyler Bertuzzi and Seider jumped in to send a message.
The chippiness continued throughout the remainder of the period, right up until the final horn, when it actually appeared for a moment that the benches would clear. Alas, the refs did a good job of controlling the situation, and the Red Wings were able to celebrate the ‘W’ with their fans once Boston cleared the ice.
Detroit is long gone from the playoff picture, but the players are still very much playing for each other.
at Winnipeg Jets (4/6, 7:30 pm ET)
Statistical Leaders (70 Games):
Goals – Kyle Connor (41)
Points – Connor (82)
Wins – Connor Hellebuyck (25)
SV% – Eric Comrie & Hellebuyck (.912)
The Jets have lost two straight and are fading farther and farther from the final wild card spot, but still have plenty to play for.
Winnipeg won the first meeting between the two 3-0 back on Jan. 13, and are anchored by Kyle Connor’s 82 points, which as a perfect 50/50 split between goals and assists. Center Mark Scheifele is second on the team with 26 goals, while Pierre-Luc Dubois is right behind him with 25.
vs. Columbus Blue Jackets (4/9, 7:00 pm ET)
Statistical Leaders (71 Games):
Goals – Patrik Laine (25)
Points – Laine (52)
Wins – Elvis Merzlikins (23)
SV% – Merzlikins (.904) (leader based on at least five games played)
The Blue Jackets appeared to be cruising to a playoff spot, but they recently snapped a seven-game losing streak (0-4-3) with a 4-2 win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday. The losing streak may have cost them a postseason berth, as they’re now 12 points behind the Wasington Capitals for the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.
Patrick Laine’s 52 points lead the way for Columbus, though forwards Jakub Voracek (51) and Oliver Bjorkstrand (50) are right behind him. The Blue Jackets have one more matchup against the Flyers before facing the Red Wings on Saturday.
The game will be the third and final matchup between the two, with each having won one to this point.
vs. Ottawa Senators (4/12, 7:30 pm ET)
Statistical Leaders (69 Games):
Goals – Josh Norris (30)
Points – Brady Tkachuk (52)
Wins – Anton Forsberg (17)
SV% – Forsberg (.919) (leader based on at least five games played)
Well, here’s a familiar foe.
The Red Wings will face the Senators for the third time in two weeks, looking to avenge a pair of 5-2 losses last week. There’s not a whole lot of reason to rehash what’s taken place (see above). If nothing else, here’s hoping Detroit doesn’t allow yet another hat trick to take place.
Ottawa is led by Brady Tkachuk’s 52 points, with Norris and Stutzle further behind at 45 and 43, respectively. Norris’s 30 goals are the most on the team, while Tkachuk has 24 on the season. The game will be the fourth and final contest between the two clubs.
Players to Watch
Josh Norris is hands-down the player to watch on Ottawa, as he has recorded at least one point in his last six games, totaling nine over that span. For Columbus, Elvis Merzlikins was nearly unbeatable in a 47-save effort over the Flyers, and will look to continue that momentum into the end of the season. As for the Jets, keep your sights pinned on winger Nikolaj Ehlers, who has four points, including two goals, in his last three games, and 13 points in his last 12 contests.
As for the Red Wings, Vrana continues to stay hot, but look no further than captain Dylan Larkin, who is three goals and nine points away from career-bests in both categories. His turnaround this season has been nothing short of remarkable, and he has the opportunity to help Detroit finish its 2021-22 campaign on a high note.
Can the Red Wings Finish Strong?
Tonight’s matchup against the Jets will be a good litmus test to see if Tuesday’s comeback victory over the Bruins was a fluke, or if it’s something the club can sustain as the season comes to a close. As its American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate Grand Rapids Griffins make a push towards the playoffs, it’s unlikely prospects like Jonatan Berggren will even get a “cup of coffee” at the NHL level, but how the team fares in its remaining slate could set the stage for a 2022-23 campaign that will likely be the most significant season the Red Wings have since they last made the playoffs.
Tonight’s game against the Jets is slated for a 7:30 pm ET face off.