Veleno makes debut, but Red Wings offense listless in 1-0 shootout loss

Detroit News

When you have two teams struggling to score — along with two red-hot goaltenders — you have a game like Tuesday’s Red Wings’ battle in Columbus.

Finally, Columbus was able to break through in the shootout, as the Blue Jackets earned a 1-0 victory after winning the shootout 2-0.

Patrik Laine and Oliver Bjorkstrand scored for the Jackets in the shootout.

The goalies stood out in this game. Thomas Greiss had 33 saves and the Blue Jackets’ Elvis Merzlikins had 41 stops, in a rather “loose” defensive game.

“It wasn’t a 0-0 game from the chances,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “Certainly both teams had a number of chances. It was a little too loose for my liking, and probably for Torts’ (Columbus coach John Tortorella) liking. Both goalies made big saves, had to make big saves for sure, and they were excellent.”

The Wings fell to 2-9 in the shootout/overtime this season.

“Our record overtime and shootout has not been good this  year, and that’s disappointing,” Blashill said. “You can certainly have a number of points on the board if that record was better and that exacerbates it.

“But we can’t change what has happened. We have to move on and move forward.”

Both teams have struggled to score all season (Columbus 29th in goals per game, the Wings 30th), but Tuesday both goalies made it just more frustrating.

Greiss made numerous big saves, including turning aside Columbus’ Cam Atkinson on a shorthanded breakaway.

One of Merzlikins’ best stops was blanking Jakub Vrana on a breakaway early in the second period — and again in overtime — and three times frustrating Vladislav Namestnikov in close.

Greiss continued a recent hot stretch, not having lost in regulation in seven games (4-0-3).

“In the middle of season he was called on to play so much, he got worn out a little bit,” Blashill said. “He’s done a real good job. Both guys (Greiss, Jonathan Bernier) are in a good spot with where their games are at, and it gives you tons of confidence you’re going to get good goaltending.

Columbus (16-25-10) won for the third time in the last 19 outings (3-13-3) and ended a nine-game winless streak. The Wings (17-25-9) still own a one point lead over Columbus in the battle for the Central Division basement.

One newsworthy item from the Wings’ perspective Tuesday was the NHL debut of forward Joe Veleno.

The 2018 first-round pick was brought up from the taxi squad earlier in the day, after being medically cleared for a concussion suffered last month while playing for Malmo in the Swedish Hockey League.

Veleno played 15 minutes with two shots and two blocks with one hit, while playing his natural position of center (Veleno played wing often in Sweden).

“He looked like a guy who has played two years pro and was ready for the opportunity to skate in the NHL,” Blashill said. “We played him no matter who he was up against. If we think he’s ready to have a chance to play in the NHL, we wanted to see what he’s got and he did a pretty good job.

“He’s shown he’ got a 200-foot game and that earns you ice time.”

Veleno had 11 goals and nine assists in Sweden this season, but most importantly, progressed in the Wings’ eyes as a dependable two-way center who can be counted on also defensively.

Veleno had a good defensive game, and that was an area he concentrated on in his debut.

“I wanted to be good in all areas of the ice, and good defensively,” Veleno said “As a center, it’s pretty important in the NHL. I wanted to show that aspect.

“The puck didn’t go our way for a lot of guys. We could have had a couple (of goals) but it’s hockey and we have to regroup and focus on the next one.”

Playing tight defense was important in the SHL, what with the big ice surface and waves of skilled, hard-working players. Veleno made gradual strides in Grand Rapids last season, but needed more seasoning this winter, with without an AHL season.

So the Wings loaned Veleno to Malmo, and Veleno was able to move forward with his defensive improvement.

“It’s something I found I needed to improve a lot,” Veleno said. “To be a 200-foot centerman in the NHL, you need to be relied upon defensively and be able to produce offensively.”

The only disappointment for Veleno on Tuesday was the inability of his parents to attend his first game. Border restrictions prevented his parents, in Quebec, to travel to Columbus.

“They were able to watch from home, a lot of friends and family were watching,” Veleno said. “It’s too bad they couldn’t be here but at least they got to see me play on TV. That’s the only way they can watch me at this point.”

Still, the entire evening was a genuine thrill that Veleno soon won’t forget.

“Knowing you’re playing on the same stage as those guys (Columbus’ Seth Jones, Patrik Laine) they’re super stars in the league and for me to be out there on the ice with them, it’s pretty special and kind of shocking to me,” Veleno said. “But I tell myself I’m here now and this is what it’s going to be like if I want to play in the NHL. You’re going to have to go up against the best and hopefully it’ll be me one day someone else is saying that (about).

“It was special to kind of step on the ice and go for a skate in warm up and kind of fell the butterflies a little bit, and nerves, but they were exciting nerves. It was a great feeling to go out on the ice for an NHL game.”

Twitter: @tkulfan

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