Red Wings end exhibition season with 4-4 record after loss in Buffalo

Detroit News

Detroit — The Red Wings didn’t end the exhibition season probably the way they wanted.

The Wings ended the warm-up games Saturday with a 3-1 loss in Buffalo.

Sam Gagner was the lone Wings’ goal scorer, as the Wings finished the exhibition season with a 4-4-0 record.

Considering the regular season  begins Thursday, it wasn’t a great way to lead into the games that’ll count.

“Last tuneup before the regular season, especially early on, we have to make better plays, get open for each other, execute, be harder on pucks” said Gagner in a Zoom call with media afterward. “It’s important for all of us to be on the same page and be better.”

The hectic schedule – eight games in 11 days – along with the practice schedule may have caught up with the Wings physically.

The Wings were also using some players more often than planned, given a growing number of nagging injuries.

“We weren’t very good, they were good,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “They won more puck battles and races than we did. It felt like we were a step slow, a step behind. We weren’t very good. Why? Either guys didn’t play good enough or guys were tired and as a result didn’t quite have the jump.”

Tage Thompson, Zemgus Girgensons (shorthanded) and Vinnie Hinostroza (empty net) countered for Buffalo.

It was Girgensons’ goal that was the difference. Wings goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic attempted to handle the puck in front of him and batted the puck off defenseman Moritz Seider, directly to Girgensons.

BOX SCORE: Sabres 3, Red Wings 1

Nedeljkovic dove, but couldn’t stop Girgensons’ easy put back with 12 seconds left in the second period, giving Buffalo a 2-1 lead.

“It’s a puck we’d like our goalies to advance the puck when there’s opportunities to, and that was probably a puck where because it was bouncing and because of what was going on, we probably should have just let it sit there and let the defenseman get it,” Blashill said.

The miscue notwithstanding, Saturday’s game was the best of the preseason for Nedeljkovic, who stopped 35 shots.

“He got tested a lot, especially the first half of the game and he was real good,” Blashill said. “He saw the puck well and played a good game.”

Thrive or survive

Blashill talked Thursday about what it’ll take for young players to stick on the opening night NHL roster.

Blashill mentioned how the Wings want to see players not overmatched, and making impacts on games.

And not merely playing to survive, and stay in the lineup.

“I would say there’s a lot of guys that can kind of play in the league and you kind of survive,” Blashill said.

“They go out shift by shift, maybe they try to not let anything bad happen. They don’t really create a whole bunch of positives, and they just kind of survive. Although there are guys that end up in those spots that shouldn’t be or are young players, it doesn’t make any sense to have them in a spot where they’re just surviving.

“It should be readily apparent from everybody out there, from the impact they have on the game that they’re going to be able to help the hockey team be a way better team,” Blashill said. “If you just see a flash here, like, ‘Oh, he’s a good skater,’ well that’s not good enough.

“The impact on the game is what matters the most. Again, are they thriving or are they kind of surviving?”

Forwards Lucas Raymond and Joe Veleno are two prospects the Wings must decide whether to remain in the NHL, or gain more experience in the minor leagues in Grand Rapids.

Raymond had one shot Saturday and Veleno none, and both were minus-1, while not getting on the scoresheet.

For Raymond, it was the third consecutive game without a point – after an outstanding start to the preseason- as the rigors of the schedule appeared to catch up with him.

“He wasn’t as good the last three as, certainly the game against Chicago (Monday, a goal and assist), that kind of culminated a couple good games in a row, he was excelent in that game,” Blashill said. “It’s hard for any player to be excellent every night but that’s the reality of how hard the league is.

“Did he get tired? I can’t answer that.  He’s played a lot of hockey, like some other guys. But the reality is, this is what the league is a lot of times and you have be effective when you don’t have your legs, and it’s a learning process.”

The roster needs to be set Monday by 5 p.m.

Ice chips

Blashill said no players have been already been ruled out for Thursday’s opener against Tampa, but the Wings are dealing with injuries. Michael Rasmussen and Givani Smith are two forwards nursing injuries and have been missed games this week.

“Nobody has been ruled out today, but certainly we have a number of question marks that we’ll see (about) when we get to Monday,” Blashill said. “We have a whole bunch of guys who we don’t know who’ll be available or not. We’re taking it day by day. We have three days before we even play. We’ll make decisions when we have to make decisions, and not before that.”

…The Wings waived defensemen Luke Witkowski and Dan Renouf and goaltender Calvin Pickard, all of whom will start the season in Grand Rapids.

…One player who did stand out Saturday was forward Mitchell Stephens, who created a turnover behind the Buffalo net and set up Gagner for a goal. Stephens has seemingly solidified a spot on the fourth-line to begin the season.

“Mitchell was one guy who had some jump and had some legs” Blashill said. “He’s a good skater and that’s probably would be one of the reasons why he played well. He was one of our better forwards.”

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tkulfan

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