Red Wings Wednesday Weekly: Ride the Lightning

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 Detroit Red Wings ended this week with a record of 13-22-6. While that’s certainly not pretty, it is a stark improvement over the endless barrage of losses this team and its fans endured last season. In fact, their improvements from last season to this one may never have been more on display than this week. They took four out of a possible eight points, but were dangerously close to increasing that total to seven out of eight. They are on one of their mini hot streaks right now and it’s fun to watch.

Let’s take a look at what happened this week in Hockeytown.

Clipped by the Panthers

4/1 at Florida: Loss, 3-2 (OT)

This was a closely fought game between two teams at opposite ends of the divisional (and league) standings. Both teams scored goals in the first and third periods, and an overtime goal by Alexander Wennberg was the difference as the Florida Panthers closed out their season series with the Red Wings with a win. Detroit finishes this series with a 2-4-2 record versus the Panthers. Another way of looking at this is that the Red Wings are currently responsible for 20 percent of Florida’s regulation losses. That doesn’t sound as bad, does it?

Alex Wennberg Florida Panthers
Alex Wennberg led the Florida Panthers to another victory over the Red Wings (Photo by Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Red Wings’ goals were scored by Anthony Mantha and Adam Erne. Goaltender Thomas Greiss stopped 33 of 36 shots, cementing a solid start for the veteran who (spoiler alert) seems to have finally found his comfort zone while playing for his new team. While the loss was hard to swallow, the Red Wings gave themselves a chance to win this game, and that has to count for something.

Overall Grade vs. Florida: B

Red Wings Shock the Lightning

4/3 at Tampa Bay: Loss, 2-1
4/4 at Tampa Bay: Win, 5-1

The big takeaway from this series is that the Red Wings have a good chance against the Lightning as long as goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy isn’t playing that day. He is arguably the best goalie in the world, and that fact showed Saturday afternoon as he held off the Red Wings during a third period in which they heavily outplayed and out-chanced Tampa Bay. The fact that the Bolts lost the following day with their third-string goalie in net only furthers the fact that the Russian goaltender is such a huge piece of their puzzle.

But let’s not take anything away from the Red Wings in this series. If you can hold the reigning Stanley Cup champions to just three goals over two games, you’ve done something right. We’ve mentioned it before in this series, but the Wings are at their absolute best when they clamp it down defensively and turn the game into a low-event affair. They stifled the Lightning in the first game, but ran into a brick wall in net. The next game, they continued their strong defensive play while also taking advantage of a goalie who hadn’t started a game in the NHL since before the public knew how the Avengers were going to defeat Thanos.

Jeff Blashill Detroit Red Wings
When Jeff Blashill gets his team to play defensively, they often put themselves in a position to win (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Lightning have expectations of repeating as champions. The Red Wings have expectations of another top five draft pick. When the latter gets the best of the former, you have to give them high marks – so that’s what I’m going to do.

Final Grade vs. Tampa Bay: A

A Point Against the Predators

4/6 vs. Nashville: Loss, 3-2 (SO)

Through the first four games of this season against the Predators, it looked like the Red Wings were going to have a chance to win against them on a nightly basis. While all but one of the seven games thus far have been close, Nashville has looked better and better as the season has gone on. It’s no wonder they suddenly find themselves in a playoff spot after weeks of speculation on who they were going to deal away at the trade deadline. Last night’s game was just another example of how the Predators have gotten their groove back.

Danny DeKeyser and Erne(!) were the goal scorers for Detroit in this game, and if it weren’t for a penalty late in the third period that captain Dylan Larkin and head coach Jeff Blashill both seemed unimpressed with, the Red Wings might have come away with a 2-1 victory in this game. It wasn’t meant to be, however, and Ryan Johansen and the Predators creeped their way into a victory in the shootout.

The Red Wings went 0-2 on the power play in this game while Nashville went 1-4, furthering the notion that the late tripping call against Marc Staal was a tipping point in this game. Oh well. With a point in this game, the Red Wings now find themselves with the best point-percentage among the last place teams in all four divisions, essentially making them the best the worst. Hooray!

Final Grade vs. Nashville: B+

3 Takeaways From Last Week’s Games

1. Adam Erne is Possessed

Erne has three goals and four points in his last five games. His ninth goal, notched last night against the Predators, not only padded his career-high goal total, but it put him in a tie for second on the team in goals, behind only Mantha and Robby Fabbri. After last season where he was mostly invisible the whole way through, he has been very visible this season, especially after the halfway mark.

The former second round pick of Steve Yzerman and the Lightning has raised his stock exponentially this season. Not only is he suddenly a solid trade candidate with the trade deadline right around the corner, but he could very well be Seattle Kraken bait come July. However, given his fit on the fourth line and his productivity on the power play, maybe the 25-year-old is convincing the decision-makers in Detroit that he needs to be part of the solution in Hockeytown. There’s no denying the success he’s had this season, and it’s been kind of unbelievable to witness.

2. Thomas Greiss Has Arrived

Okay, maybe I jumped the gun a little bit when I said Greiss was becoming THE guy in Detroit. There’s no doubt in my mind that Jonathan Bernier is still the top option for the Red Wings. However, not only is the German netminder now the first goaltender besides Bernier to notch more than two wins since the 2018-19 season, but he’s been finding genuine success in the crease while Bernier is sidelined with an injury.

Thomas Greiss Detroit Red Wings
Thomas Greiss, Detroit Red Wings (Photo by Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images)

The 35-year-old had a .935 save percentage (SV%) over his four starts this week and has raised his quality-start percentage (a metric that determines how many of his starts were average or above-average) to an even .500. Remember, it was only a week ago that fans were starting to board the Calvin Pickard hype train. While there’s no doubt that there’s more to be desired from him, he has significantly raised his game over the last few weeks. Should the Red Wings part ways with Bernier, this has to give them confidence that they will still receive solid goaltending on a semi-regular basis.

3. Michael Rasmussen Has Made the Roster

I don’t want to be that guy that says I called it. I hate know-it-alls like that. Who do you think you’re better than?

Alright, now that that’s out of my system: I called it.

Rasmussen is quickly starting to flash the type of player he is going to be at the NHL level. In 25 games with the Red Wings, he has just seven points, but that doesn’t seem to be his main focus right now. He’s throwing his body around (44 hits), his face-off ability to getting there (43 percent success rate) and he’s seeing some time on the penalty kill. A few weeks ago, he was working with Luke Glendening on his face-offs, and I think that’s very telling of the type of player Detroit wants him to become.

While the ninth pick of the 2017 draft isn’t going to become an offensive dynamo like some of the players picked after him (cough Martin Necas cough) he may very well be on his way to becoming a useful utility player for the Red Wings. If Rasmussen can find a home on both the power play and the penalty kill, while also taking on some of Glendening’s defensive responsibilities, he’s going to play a lot of minutes for the Red Wings as the rebuild carries on. It seems to me that he has played his last game in the AHL.

Upcoming Matchups

vs. Nashville Predators (4/8, 7:30 PM, ET)

Statistical Leaders (40 games):
Goals – Filip Forsberg & Calle Jarnkrok (11)
Points – Forsberg (29)
Wins – Juuse Saros (12)
SV% – Saros (.928)

The Red Wings will look to close out their season series with the Predators on a high note, especially after last night’s nail-biter that didn’t go their way. As of now, the Predators have outscored the Red Wings 20-14 (21 if you count the shootout “goal” from last night), though that total is heavily skewed by Nashville’s 7-1 victory on March 25.

As previously mentioned, the games between these two teams have mostly been tightly-contested affairs. Those are the types of games that the Red Wings have thrived in this season, and they’ll look to limit Nashville’s chances once again. This game could come down to which team scores three goals first – and if neither team can get there, we’ll go to a shootout just like last night (we’ll just have to hope that Larkin doesn’t fumble the puck again.)

At Carolina (4/10, 7 PM ET; 4/12, 7 PM ET)

Statistical Leaders (38 games):
Goals – Sebastian Aho & Vincent Trocheck (15)
Points – Aho (36)
Wins – James Reimer (14)
SV% – Alex Nedeljkovic (.924)

The Lightning aren’t the only team the Red Wings have had a surprising amount of success against. Through five games this season, Detroit has won two against the Hurricanes, and they have only been outscored by a margin of 14-11. Despite being one of the top teams in the league, Carolina has yet to truly flex their muscles against the Red Wings, with their only lopsided win coming in the form of a 5-2 victory on March 4.

Rod Brind'Amour Carolina Hurricanes
Rod Brind’Amour has his Carolina Hurricanes playing well again this season (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Former Red Wing Petr Mrazek is back from a thumb injury that has held him out of most of this season. While Carolina has found success no matter which of their three goalies they have used, the assumption is that the former Red Wings draft pick is who will lead them into the playoffs. That being said, Nedeljkovic has put forth a .951 SV% in his two appearances against the Red Wings this season. And let’s not discount the sheer amount of victories the 11-year veteran Reimer has had this season as well. The Hurricanes are a juggernaut with three capable goalies. It will be interesting to see what they do at the trade deadline.

Players to Watch

The Predators are in the fight of their lives as they cling to the final playoff spot in the Discover Central Division. The only way they are going to lock down that spot is with continued solid goaltending from Saros, as well as continued excellent play from their captain Roman Josi. The Swiss defenseman is a bit of a Red Wings killer as he has had 10 points in seven games against Detroit this season – his highest total against any of Nashville’s divisional opponents. He’s a Norris-winner for a reason, and it will be on the Red Wings to minimize his impact tomorrow night.

As for the Hurricanes, I’ll have my eyes on Andrei Svechnikov. Evgeny’s little brother is going through a bit of a scoring slump with just two goals and five points through his last 10 games. He has the ability to tilt the ice all on his own when he’s on his game, and playing against his brother will surely inspire him to bring his A-game. If that’s the case, the Red Wings will need to play close attention to No. 37 in black.

Andrei Svechnikov, Carolina Hurricanes
Andrei Svechnikov, Carolina Hurricanes (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Finally, the Red Wings need to see continued and increased production from their top guys, including Mantha. He’s scoring a half-a-point per-game, which, if the season ended today, would mark his worst points-percentage since he became a full-time player in the NHL. He is better than this, and if the Red Wings are going to pull the trigger on trading him, you’d like to see him increase his value by producing more.

Final Thoughts

This is the final week with the Red Wings as we know them this season. The trade deadline is less than a week away and Detroit looks to be one of few full-blown sellers at the deadline. Expect the unexpected as general manager Yzerman is no stranger to making bold moves when the opportunity presents itself.

The plus side to bodies getting moved out is that the team’s younger players should receive expanded opportunities with the team down the stretch. I already mentioned how Rasmussen could take on some of Glendening’s minutes, but we could also see someone like Dennis Cholowski step into Christian Djoos’s role and Gustav Lindstrom step into Staal’s role.

And those are just the obvious assumptions. Buckle up, Hockeytown, this could be a wild week.

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