The Highs are High and the Lows are Low
Welcome back to Red Wings Weekly! In this weekly column, we like to 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.
What a rollercoaster! This week had everything: three more goals from Lucas Raymond, a bounce-back performance from Alex Nedeljkovic, and possibly the worst three-minute stretch of a Detroit Red Wings game in recent memory.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at the Red Wings’ performance last week, and hopefully I won’t be too salty about Thursday night’s tough loss against the New York Rangers.
The Ville Husso Show
11/5 vs. New York Islanders, 3-0 Win
Stop me if you’ve heard this before but I’m beginning to think that Ville Husso is pretty good. I did my best to temper my expectations for him coming into this season, but earning two shutouts in his first seven games has made it tough not to overreact. Following this game, he was tied for the league lead in shutouts and held the third-best save percentage (.941 SV%) in the league amongst goalies who have played more than two games, and the third-best goals-against average (1.86 GAA) in the same group. Obviously, these numbers are unsustainable, but Husso’s excellent play has masked the Red Wings’ deficiencies at five-on-five and is the biggest reason they even had a chance in this game.
Dominik Kubalik also kept his hot start going in this one, with the primary assist on Raymond’s game-winner and a goal of his own in the third period. Kubalik is up to 15 points in his first 12 games of the year, nearly halfway to his total of 32 from last season. Matthew Tkachuk is the only NHL player who is playing for a new team this season that has scored more points than Kubalik so far, putting him ahead of big names like Jonathan Huberdeau, Johnny Gaudreau, and Kevin Fiala.
This was a solid game by Detroit overall, with Husso making the most of a struggling Islanders offense and the team’s top players capitalizing on their best chances. This is the blueprint for a good win, despite the team being outplayed slightly at five-on-five yet again.
Final Grade: B+
OT, Oh My!
11/6 at New York Rangers, 3-2 OT Win
This was the battle of the backups as Nedeljkovic looked to shake off his rough game against the Buffalo Sabres on Halloween night against Jaroslav Halak. The Rangers have been one of the best teams in the league when it comes to possession metrics such as Corsi For Percentage and Expected Goals For Percentage, but they’ve been on a run of bad luck which has kept them from making tons of progress in the standings.
Ned looked solid all night and gave Detroit a real chance to compete, and the rest of the team managed to pull themselves together and give him the support he needed. It was nice to see Moritz Seider score a couple of points in this one, just two secondary assists but you’ve got to start somewhere when building back confidence.
I was pleased with how well Nedeljkovic played in his first start since allowing eight goals against the Sabres. The real benefit of having two goalies you trust isn’t just that Husso has looked great, but that they can afford to give their goalies a chance to reset and prepare themselves better when they’re not playing quite so well. Overall, this was a good win against a good team, even though they lucked out and avoided Igor Shesterkin.
Final Grade: B
They Got Goalied By . . . Jake Allen?!
11/8 vs. Montreal Canadiens. 3-2 SO Loss
The last time these two teams met, Jake Allen put up a real fight, making 37 saves on 38 shots, including 25 in the first period alone. He was at the top of his game again in this one, making 41 saves on 43 shots.
The real story of this game was the Red Wings’ power play scoring zero goals on seven power play opportunities. They had their chances, with 12 power play shots and 1.72 xGF at five-on-four (advanced stats via NaturalStatTrick). Detroit was clearly the better team in this one but couldn’t beat Allen often enough to take advantage of it. They’ve played from behind in most of their games this year and still managed to be competitive, so it was a bit disappointing that they couldn’t get a win in one of the few games that they were clearly the better team.
Final Grade: C+
Red Wings Forgot There’s a 3rd Period
11/10 vs. New York Rangers, 8-2 Loss
I don’t want to talk about this one. Do I have to? Fine, I’ll say a bit and then move on to any positive thing I can manage.
This game broke me I think. Through 40 minutes, the Red Wings were once again punching above their weight class a bit, admirably so, with the game tied at two. And then it all fell apart. The Rangers scored four goals in just under three minutes, dashing all hopes of a Red Wings victory. It gets worse. New York went on to score two more goals, one of them shorthanded, running up the score into full-on blowout territory. Husso ended the night with a .758 SV% which is rough and his season-long SV% fell from a sterling .941 to .920.
Okay, now onto the positives (if I can find any). Raymond scored again for his sixth goal in his last seven games. He’s now tied for the team lead in goals after going goalless in his first seven, which has been a great turn-around to watch.
We also got our first look at Jonatan Berggren in the NHL, and he scored his first point, a great primary assist on a Joe Veleno goal. Berggren had just over 14 minutes of ice time and was a positive player on the fourth line along with Veleno and Austin Czarnik. Both Berggren and Givani Smith were called up from Grand Rapids on Thursday, and Berggren clearly impressed in this game because Smith was sent back down on Friday morning while the youngster remained in Detroit.
Final Grade: F (8 goals against is always an F)
3 Takeaways From the Week
1. Husso Looks Legit
Despite his atrocious 3rd period against the Rangers, Husso has clearly been the better goalie in Detroit over the length of the season so far. His two shutouts are tied for the most in the league and his calming presence has been refreshing. I’m interested to see how he shakes off this rough loss and what he does in response. Will he look shaky again in his next start? Will he play out of his mind and bounce back? Only time will tell.
2. Is it Time to Shuffle the D-Pairings?
In last summer’s free agency, it was clear that Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman intended for Ben Chiarot to be Seider’s defense partner for the next few years and that Olli Määttä would likely be paired up with Filip Hronek. If I told you that Määttä and Hronek would be the better of the two pairs so far this year would you believe me? Obviously, it takes time for players to build chemistry with new teammates, but the status quo d-pairings in Detroit haven’t looked all that good. It might be time to shuffle them around a bit and see if any surprising pairings emerge.
3. Five-on-Five Play Still Looks Bad
The Red Wings are a bottom-five possession team at 5v5 so far (fifth worst CF% and fifth worst xGF%), and they’ve only finished three of their 14 games so far this year with a CF% above 50. With the team’s powerplay struggling in the absence of some of their top goal scorers in Tyler Bertuzzi and Jakub Vrana, and Husso looking somewhat human again, Detroit will need to improve their play at even strength if they want to hold onto a wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.
3 Stars of the Week
3. Moritz Seider (3 assists)
2. Dominik Kubalik (2 goals, 2 assists)
1. Lucas Raymond (3 goals)
Prospect to Watch
Amadeus Lombardi has looked excellent so far this year in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) after being drafted by Detroit in the fourth round of the 2022 NHL Draft. He’s a special player, and no, that’s not just because his name sounds like a character straight out of a Quentin Tarantino movie. Lombardi has high-end speed and skill which allows him to beat defenders in a variety of ways, depending on how they try to shut him down.
Lombardi missed what would have been his rookie season in the OHL when the league shut down for a year due to COVID-19, and in his first season last year, he managed 59 points in 67 games. So far this season, he has scored 18 points in 16 games, enough for third most on his team. He is on the smaller side physically (5-foot-10, 165 pounds), but his speed and puck skill should give him a real shot at playing in the NHL one day. Keep an eye on him and the Flint Firebirds this season.
The Highs are High, the Lows are Low
The Red Wings have been a pleasant surprise so far this season when it comes to results, winning more games than most fans expected early on. They currently have the exact same record (7-4-3) as the Toronto Maple Leafs who were expected to be a real Stanley Cup contender this year. However, they are the only team in the Eastern Conference that has a negative goal differential (minus-5) despite currently sitting in a playoff spot.
There is clearly a lot of room for growth (and for players to return from injury) but this has been an encouraging start so far. It’s encouraging that Husso wasn’t a one-year-wonder goalie who Detroit will be paying for three years. It’s encouraging that new acquisitions like David Perron, Kubalik, and Määttä have made such a sizeable impact. And it’s encouraging that they’re playing this well even before Seider has truly broken out.
I’m not filled with the most hope for this season, but the Red Wings’ surprisingly good start has given me a lot of hope for what this team will be able to do in the near future.
Logan is a sports writer for the Detroit Red Wings as a member of The Hockey Writers team. He loves reading about statistics and advanced analytics, and discovering how they can enrich his hockey analysis and writing. Logan also writes about more general hockey topics on his blog https://www.crashthecrease.blog.