Detroit Red Wings’ Husso Has Earned the Starting Role (For Now)
When NHL teams elect to use a tandem in goal, it can go a number of ways. For example, the Boston Bruins’ tandem of Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark each started 39 games last season, and both had a viable case to be “the guy” for their team in the playoffs. On the other end of the spectrum, you’ll find something similar to what the Detroit Red Wings had last season.
The Red Wings utilized a tandem of Alex Nedeljkovic and Thomas Greiss, leading to a team save-percentage (SV%) of just .888. While Nedeljkovic, the newcomer of the two, looked promising through the first two months of the season, things went downhill in the new year for both him and the Red Wings. With Greiss offering minimal support as a tandem partner, Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman made the decision in the offseason to target Finnish goaltender Ville Husso of the St. Louis Blues. Before the beginning of the second round of the 2022 draft, Yzerman made a trade, sending the 73rd pick in that draft to the Blues in exchange for the 27-year-old goaltender.
Related: Red Wings’ Nedeljkovic, Husso Could be a Top-Tier Goalie Tandem
While the intention was to form a legitimate tandem between Husso and Nedeljkovic, the former’s play to start the season has given the Red Wings a boost of confidence that the latter simply hasn’t. Because of this, there is no question that Husso has earned the opportunity to run with the starter’s role for the time being.
Husso’s Calm & Collected Game
NHL goaltenders can usually be put into one of two categories.
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There are some goaltenders who seem to rely solely on instinct as they flail around in the crease and perform awe-inspiring maneuvers to make saves. These guys are not the most technically sound, but they can be a ton of fun to watch when they are on their game. On the other hand, you’ve got goaltenders that are more technically sound and “quiet” in the crease. They are rarely caught out of position, and they rely on their technique to make saves more so than their athletic ability.
The Red Wings’ goalie tandem this season features one goalie that fits into the first category while the other fits into the second.
Nedeljkovic endeared himself to Detroit last season through his exciting, if sometimes erratic play. He loved to play the puck, acting sometimes as a third defenseman rather than a goaltender, and his sprawling saves often electrified the crowd at Little Caesars Arena.
But as was the case towards the end of last season, Nedeljkovic finds himself struggling to start the 2022-23 season. While his only win this season came from a 37-save effort against the New Jersey Devils where he effectively stole a win for his team, he hasn’t posted a SV% north of .900 since. In his latest game, a loss against the Buffalo Sabres, he allowed a one-goal deficit in the third period to snowball into a five-goal deficit, with the result being an 8-3 victory for the Sabres. Once Buffalo scored their fifth goal, the puck just kept beating Nedeljkovic, who smashed his stick late in the game due to frustration.
Maybe it’s his fault, maybe it’s not. Either way, the Red Wings simply haven’t been able to survive while “Ned” works to find his game.
Meanwhile, Husso’s playing style closely reflects that of his off-ice personality. His voice can sometimes seem monotone as he offers up expected responses to the media’s questions.
“[My teammates] played good. They battled hard, blocked shots and made my night pretty easy,” Husso said following a 33-save effort in the Red Wings’ recent 3-1 win over the Washington Capitals.
While most goaltenders are quick to give credit to their teammates when they have a good outing, there is also something to be said for when a team knows what it’s going to get out of their netminder. While they may know that Nedeljkovic is capable of winning games for them, Husso has been the one to actually produce those wins. Of the Red Wings’ five wins through their first 10 games, Husso was in goal for four of them.
While Husso’s game isn’t very flashy, his teammates know what to expect from him. If he sees the puck, he’ll stop it – his .934 SV% to start the season is proof of that. It also helps that the team just generally seems to perform better defensively in front of Husso; they’re allowing an average of 32.6 shots-against with Husso in goal, while they allow an average of 38.75 shots-against with Nedeljkovic in goal.
Red Wings’ Tandem Will Be Tested throughout the Season
While goaltending tandems are becoming more and more popular across the NHL, there are still some teams that utilize the traditional starter/backup setup in goal. Teams like the Tampa Bay Lightning lean on one elite-level goalie (Andrei Vasilevskiy in this case) and turn to their backup maybe 20 times in a season. However, there aren’t many of those elite-tier goaltenders, and so as more teams veer towards goalie tandems, the role of the second goaltender has become more important than it has ever been before.
In the case of the Red Wings, while Husso is off to a red-hot start, it is important to note that he is still only a veteran of just 63 regular season games at the NHL level. While he was good enough for the Blues last season that he stole the starting role away from Jordan Binnington for a period of time, his game did come back down to Earth once the playoffs began. The Blues ultimately weren’t sold on Husso, so when it was time to negotiate a new deal for him, they opted instead to send him to Detroit. This is essentially the exact same path that Nedeljkovic followed to Detroit as well.
Two seasons ago, Nedeljkovic stole the starting role for the Carolina Hurricanes after Petr Mrazek went down with an injury. “Ned” was equally impressive in the playoffs, managing to steal a win against the Lightning before they went on to win the Stanley Cup. Despite playing in 59 games for the Red Wings last season, he has played just 92 total regular season games in the NHL. When the Red Wings’ tandem combines for a total of 155 regular season games of experience, plenty of ups and downs should be expected.
That is to say that while Husso is clearly the hot hand right now, that isn’t guaranteed to last. Whether or not Nedeljkovic can step in and be a “1A” for the Red Wings when that happens will ultimately determine what his future is with this team. The upside of this tandem is that both guys have proven that they can carry the load for an extended period of time when called upon. Both have had moments where they have looked like above-average NHL starters. The downside of this tandem is that there are still questions to be answered, and nothing is set in stone in terms of what these guys are at the NHL level.
But for right now, it’s clear who the Red Wings’ top option in goal is. Nedeljkovic will undoubtedly get his opportunities to gain some confidence, but for right now, Husso is the goalie that is giving Detroit the best chance to win games.
I am a Western Michigan University alum whose passion for hockey knows no limits. Dr. Pepper enthusiast. Catch me and my fellow Red Wings writers’ YouTube show “The Hockey Writers Grind Line” which drops every Saturday.