Alex Nedeljkovic, Column, Detroit Red Wings, Dylan Larkin, Givani Smith

Red Wings Wednesday Weekly: 2 Out of 3 Ain’t Bad

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)

If you want to get an idea of where the Detroit Red Wings are this season, they began this week at .500, fell below .500, and then finished the week above that mark. This has more or less been the pattern of this season for the Red Wings as they have been streaky in both directions, leading to a record that is befitting of a team that isn’t winning or losing with consistency.

Related: Red Wings Daily Download

The Red Wings began the week by taking on the Winnipeg Jets for the first time this season, and finished up by completing their season series against their Atlantic Division counterparts, the Buffalo Sabres. As the title of this entry suggests, winning two out the team’s three games this week certainly isn’t bad.

Jets Soar Higher Than the Wings

1/13 vs. Jets, 3-0 Loss

The Red Wings actually outshot the Jets in this game with a final tally of 33-31, something they have had trouble doing this season while playing against teams that are equal to or better than them. Despite that fact, Detroit really didn’t seem to pose a threat to the Jets as Winnipeg goaltender Connor Hellebuyck posted one of the easiest 33-save shutouts you may ever see. The Red Wings’ top line of Tyler Bertuzzi, Dylan Larkin and Lucas Raymond combined for 13 shots, and they were generally the most dangerous line Detroit threw at Winnipeg, as per usual.

Connor Hellebuyck Winnipeg Jets
Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

Givani Smith continued his aggressive play in this game, though he never found somebody to drop the gloves with. The young grinder has really seemed to buy-in to playing an enforcer role over the last couple of weeks, and when his physical play is matched with hard-nosed play in the offensive zone, that’s when he is at his best and most effective. With four points through 31 games this season, he hasn’t really made a difference using his stick this season. By using his hands, however, he’s starting to literally make an impact for the Red Wings. That’s something to monitor heading into next week.

Overall Grade vs. Winnipeg: D

Red Wings Conquer the Sabres

1/15 vs. Sabres, 4-0 Win
1/17 at Sabres, 3-2 Win (OT)

Bertuzzi put up three points in the Red Wings’ 4-0 shutout of the Sabres, and then added an assist in the second game on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Not to be outdone, Larkin – who was named the Red Wings’ representative at the All-Star Game next month – recorded two assists in the first game and then followed it up with two goals in the second game, including the game-winner in overtime. Raymond also scored a goal and added an assist in the first game.

But the real MVP of these two games was goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic, who not only secured his first shutout as a Red Wing, but he did it while playing in front of his grandma, grandpa, mom and dad.

While “Ned” was unable to post back-to-back shutouts, he was solid in the second game, standing tall in goal after the Sabres made it 2-0 to allow his teammates to fight back and eventually win the game. He was the goalie of record in all four games against Buffalo, finishing with seven goals-against while stopping 103 out of 110 shots (.936 save-percentage (SV%)). The Sabres have not defeated the Red Wings since Feb. 11, 2020.

Overall Grade vs. Buffalo: A-

3 Takeaways From Last Week

1. Nedeljkovic is the Red Wings’ Savior

Since the calendar flipped to 2022, Nedeljkovic has stopped 202 out of 219 shots (.922 SV%). In that same timeframe, he has posted a SV% below .923 just once: the Red Wings’ first game of the new year which saw them lose 5-1 to the Boston Bruins. Without that porous effort, Ned’s 2022 stats would look even better. It’s safe to say that he has really settled into his new role as the Red Wings’ go-to guy in net.

When the Red Wings traded a third round pick to the Carolina Hurricanes to acquire Nedeljkovic, the hope among the fanbase was that the Parma, Ohio native was going to become the answer in goal for the foreseeable future. While he only had 23 NHL starts to his name at the time of the trade, he has quickly silenced fears that he wouldn’t live up to the play he exhibited last season with the Hurricanes. His aggressive style is fun to watch, and he plays the puck more than any other goalie in the league. He’s a big reason why the Red Wings are so watchable this season.

2. Givani Smith Finally Figuring it Out?

As previously mentioned, Smith has really started to own the enforcer role for the Red Wings. While he showed a bit of an offensive touch during his time in the Ontario Hockey League and the American Hockey League, that offense has rarely showed its head at the NHL level. When a player runs into that problem, they have to find other ways to contribute, otherwise they won’t play at all. For Smith, his way to contribute has been to drop the gloves and energize his team with his physicality.

Givani Smith Detroit Red Wings
Givani Smith, Detroit Red Wings (Photo by Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images)

If Smith can entrench himself as that member of the team, his presence should help make life a little bit easier for the team’s skilled players like Raymond and Larkin. We all know what happened between Larkin and Dallas Stars forward Jamie Benn last season. Having a player like Smith around should ensure that plays like that don’t go unpunished in the future.

3. Larkin’s Strong First Half is Rewarded

With Larkin’s second All-Star Game invitation secured, it’s good to see that his efforts this season will be appreciated by the whole league. Fans who have watched closely this season will know that he’s on a career-best scoring pace as we approach the halfway point of the season (18 goals, 36 points in 35 games). His strong play this season can be attributed to playing alongside Bertuzzi and Raymond for most of the season, but their respective seasons can also be attributed to playing with him.

Related: Red Wings’ Dylan Larkin A Deserving All-Star

If anybody needed a bounce-back season from last season, it was Larkin. His .52 points per-game rate last season was the second-lowest of his career, and he generally was unable to impact the game to the extent that we have all grown accustomed to. Hopefully he goes to Las Vegas and absolutely lights up the All-Star Game.

Upcoming Matchups

vs. Dallas Stars (1/21, 7:30 PM ET)

Statistical Leaders (35 Games):
Goals – Joe Pavelski, Roope Hintz (15)
Points – Pavelski (36)
Wins – Jake Oettinger (nine)
SV% – Braden Holtby (.920)

The last time the Red Wings faced off against the Stars, Dallas skated away with a 5-2 victory on Nov. 16. Since then, the Red Wings have continued to hover around .500 and a Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference, while the Stars are fighting for their lives in the Central Division and Western Conference despite holding a solid, if unimpressive 18-15-2 record. Needless to say, the two points on the line in this game will loom large for both teams.

Dylan Larkin Detroit Red Wings
Dylan Larkin and Stars captain Jamie Benn have history (Photo by Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images)

The first meeting between these two teams took place in Dallas. This meeting will take place in Detroit, so fans looking for some sort of retaliation for Benn’s hit on Larkin last season will have their best and last opportunity to see it come to fruition. Ultimately, the best retaliation for the Red Wings would be to win the game and make the playoffs that much harder to reach for the Stars.

at Nashville Predators (1/22, 8 PM ET)

Statistical Leaders (40 Games):
Goals – Filip Forsberg (19)
Points – Roman Josi (40)
Wins – Juuse Saros (20)
SV% – Saros (.923)

The Nashville Predators have been a surprise this season. After an offseason that saw them offload defenseman Ryan Ellis and forward Viktor Arvidsson, most people – myself included – assumed that the Predators were preparing to take a step back in order to take a step forward down the road. Instead, they find themselves with a 24-13-3 record, good for third in the Central Division.

The Red Wings saw first-hand how dangerous the Predators can be this season back on Dec. 7 when Nashville secured a 5-2 victory at Little Caesar’s Arena. This game will take place at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville where the Predators have a 11-6 record this season. Meanwhile, the Red Wings have a less than ideal 5-11-3 record on the road. This game is going to be a tough one for the Red Wings, especially considering it’s the second night of a back-to-back.

Players to Watch

In the Stars’ corner, defenseman Miro Heiskanen has come a long way and has developed into the kind of defenseman Dallas thought they were getting when they selected him with the third overall selection of the 2017 draft. He leads all Stars defensemen with 22 points while averaging over 24 minutes in ice-time. With news breaking that fellow defenseman and pending unrestricted free agent John Klingberg wants out of Dallas, Heiskanen is the top defender in Dallas for now and the foreseeable future.

Miro Heiskanen Dallas Stars
Miro Heiskanen, Dallas Stars (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

As for the Predators, Saros is establishing a Vezina Trophy-worthy resume this season. After finishing sixth in voting for the award last season, he’s building on that success this season. He’s a big reason why the Predators have been so successful this season and, truthfully, the team will only go as far as he can take them.

The Red Wings are at their best when they receive contributions from more than just their top line. With that in mind, Pius Suter has looked dangerous over the last few games, getting a couple quality chances from the slot during the second game against the Sabres. He’s also rang a few off the pipes in recent memory. He does not have a point in his last five games, but when a player is coming as close to scoring as he has been, it just seems like it’s a matter of time before they break through….

Final Thought

The midway point of the season is upon us. The game against the Stars will be game 41 of the scheduled 82-game season. Once the final horn blows, we’ll be able to take a look at the Red Wings on an individual and team basis and see how they project going forward. It’s an obvious statement to say that they have improved from last season, but quality efforts in this week’s back-to-back will go a long way towards determining whether the Red Wings are about to start sliding down the standings, or if they’re going to continue to hang tough in the Eastern Conference.

It’s going to be interesting and fun to watch.



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