| Detroit Free Press
Sam Gagner: Detroit Red Wings have to find a way to buckle up
Detroit Red Wings forward Sam Gagner, Feb. 28, 2021.
Helene St. James, Detroit Free Press
The Detroit Red Wings start March strengthened by back-to-back victories and a power play that appears to have emerged from a staggering funk.
The past week ended on a downer but it featured more highlights than lowlights, and there were some especially encouraging performances from multiple players. The Wings went 2-2 in series against the Nashville Predators and Chicago Blackhawks, winning consecutive games for the first time this season.
Christian Djoos and Evgeny Svechnikov — neither of who was in the lineup opening night — scored power play goals in the weekend games against the Blackhawks, ending a drought that dated to Jan. 28 and had gone on for 40 man-advantage opportunities.
Svechnikov leads off this week’s stock watch, which, has more players rising than falling.
It’s nice when good things happen to deserving people. Svechnikov, the Wings’ first-round pick in 2015, has endured testing times at the pro level, including sitting out 2018-19 recovering from knee surgery. He was waived in January, on the taxi squad since mid-February and didn’t get into the lineup until an injury to Dylan Larkin created an opening. Svechnikov, 24, came through with a goal and an assist in Saturday’s 5-3 victory at Chicago, and a second goal in Sunday’s 7-2 loss. He would seem to have earned the right to stay in the lineup, which puts him on course to realize his dream of playing against his brother, Andrei, when the Wings are at Carolina Thursday.
While Svechnikov is trying to establish a foothold in the NHL, Gagner is trying to regain one. He made a strong case with four goals in three games, including a hat trick. He’s on an expiring contract and could attract an offer around the trade deadline from a contender looking to boost secondary scoring (especially because he shoots right). Gagner, 31, fits in nicely as a stop-gap measure during the rebuild, a high-character veteran who provides leadership and pitches in offensively.
What a week he had, posting a .935 save percentage and 2.38 goals-against average with a 2-1 record. Bernier, 32, has emerged as the No. 1 goaltender, consistently coming up with saves to give his teammates a chance to win games. Overall, he’s been in net for six of the team’s seven victories. Bernier is another guy who could draw interest at the trade deadline, as he’s on an expiring contract. But if general manager Steve Yzerman parts with Bernier, it’d deprive the Wings of their steadiest goaltender. There’s nobody in the farm system ready for the NHL.
Zadina posted two assists and a plus-two rating in four games. His competition level has been top-notch, his work ethic on display nearly every shift. Injuries to Larkin and Robby Fabbri forced tweaks to the lines, and Zadina has looked very good playing with Gagner and Vladislav Namestnikov. Zadina, 21, probably isn’t happy with only six points in 17 games (he missed two weeks in COVID-19 protocol) but the lack of production isn’t worrisome given how hard he’s working. The points will come.
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He has become a mainstay in this category, not ideal for a guy signed to four years, $22.8 million in November. Given how dominant he is when he really applies himself, Mantha should not be as quiet as he has been, with no points and a minus-4 rating over the past week. And it’s not like that was an aberration — he has no points his last eight games, and he has had a minus rating in five of those. After 23 games, Mantha has just five goals and four assists and a minus-13 rating. Yzerman could get offers for 6-foot-5, 234-pound winger, but he might not get fair value.
It’s easy in hindsight to contend coach Jeff Blashill should have rode the hot goalie and started Bernier again Sunday. But Greiss, 35, had to reappear at some point, and he didn’t impress. Could his teammates have done a better job in front of him? Absolutely. Did Greiss need to make more saves, especially in the third period when he allowed five goals on 10 shots? Ditto. It was his only appearance of the week, and the numbers were ugly: a .781 save percentage, a 7.00 GAA.
Contact Helene St. James at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her book, The Big 50: The Detroit Red Wings is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.