The Grind Line: Red Wings Opening Weekend Surprises and Disappointments

The Hockey Writers

What’s The Grind Line? Apart from the once-famous line of Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby, and either Joe Kocur or Darren McCarty, The Grind Line is also The Hockey Writers’ weekly column about the Detroit Red Wings. This week Tony Wolak, Devin Little, Kyle Knopp, and Jeff Middleton are the muckers who make up THW’s forechecking unit and sound off on Red Wings topics.

Opening week of the 2021-22 NHL season has come to a close and the Detroit Red Wings have secured three points in their first two games. After opening the season at home against the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning, a game in which the Lions Red Wings forgot to kick the extra point, Dylan Larkin served his 1-game suspension as the Wings hosted the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday.

Dylan Larkin Detroit Red Wings
Dylan Larkin was a surprise and disappointment on opening night for the Detroit Red Wings (Photo by Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images)

While the Larkin incident was cause for surprise and disappointment for our crew here at The Grind Line, we decided to take a closer look at what we liked, and what we noticed still needs improving, as the Red Wings open the 2021-22 NHL season. Let’s dive in:

Tony Wolak: Bring the Heat

Biggest Surprise: Intensity

In a previous edition of The Grind Line, we shared our Red Wings theme song for the season. After two games, I’m revising my selection in favor of “Detroit vs. Everybody” by Eminem, Royce da 5’9″, Big Sean, Danny Brown, Dej Loaf, and Trick Trick. For a team that has generally stayed away from the rough stuff in prior years, the willingness to stand up for one another is a refreshing sight. 

Biggest Disappoint: No Troy Stecher

I honestly do not understand why the Red Wings scratched Troy Stecher twice to open the season. Well, I can guess why, but I certainly can’t rationalize it. 

Troy Stecher Detroit Red Wings
Troy Stecher has yet to play for the Detroit Red Wings this season (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Detroit may want all left-right defensive pairs. That’s fine. They may want to give Gustav Lindstrom ice time to develop. Also fine. But frankly, there’s no reason why Marc Staal and Danny DeKeyser should be playing over Stecher, who is coming off of an impressive World Championships for Canada.

Overall Thoughts?: B+

Good start from a goal-scoring perspective. Also, don’t be worried about Alex Nedeljkovic–new goalies often struggle to adapt to life in Hockeytown. That was the case for Jonathan Bernier and Thomas Greiss, and both found their game in time.

Devin Little: Fear of Missing Out

Biggest Surprise: Tyler Bertuzzi

Tyler Bertuzzi is currently tied with Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings for the league-lead in goals with four. Quite frankly, that is not a sentence I anticipated writing at all this season, regardless of the fact we’re not even a week through the season. 

Biggest Disappoint: Alex Nedeljkovic

Now to be clear, I don’t entirely fault Nedeljkovic for the Red Wings’ inability to hold three separate 3-goal leads in their season opener against the Tampa Bay Lightning. In fact, I think “Ned” performed very well through 50 minutes of that game, just like his team. However, a misplayed puck behind the net, as well as another goal or two that he would probably save on another night, led to an overall disappointing performance from Detroit’s newest goaltender. Give it time though; he’s still just getting warmed up.

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Overall Thoughts?: A-

The only way things could have been better, in my opinion, is if the team had been able to hold on against the Lightning. Even though they weren’t able to, however, that 7-6 affair was one of the most fun Red Wings hockey games I’ve seen in a while. That they then followed it up with a 3-1 victory over the Vancouver Canucks put the cherry on top. This team did not fall flat right out of the gate; they have scored nine(!) goals through their first two games, their power play looks night and day from last season, at least one of their goaltenders looks ready to go this season, the kids (Moritz Seider and Lucas Raymond) already seem to be comfortable with life in the NHL, and the team has already shown that they are not going to be pushed around this year. It may be far too early to say this, but if you haven’t tuned in to the Red Wings yet this season, you are missing out big time. 

Kyle Knopp: Trust the Kids

Biggest Surprise: Special Teams

Even though the Lightning scored three power-play goals in the opening night loss, the Red Wings special teams have been playing extremely well. Pegged as one of the key areas The Grind Line was going to have our eyes on this season, the power play is currently 2-for-7 and creating numerous chances. Not only that, Bertuzzi scored two of his goals against the Lightning in special teams type situations—his first goal at 4-on-4, and his second goal moments after the power play expired. Following that up with one power-play goal in two opportunities, while holding the Canucks scoreless over their three power-play chances, speaks volumes to how this team has already improved.

Biggest Disappoint: Staal AND DeKeyeser Over Stecher

I have to agree with Tony on this one. Why are Marc Staal and Danny DeKeyser both playing over Troy Stecher?? At this point in their careers, I think you can consider Staal and DeKeyer to basically be the same player. Therefore, they should be allowing Stecher to have time to develop with Gustav Lindstrom and Moritz Seider. If this season is going to be the year of “let the young kids play,” then it also has to be the year of “let the old men sit.”

Overall Thoughts?: B

This grade would have been an A had the Wings closed out the Lightning in regulation. Instead, Detroit gave up a 3-goal lead—twice. Therefore, I had to knock them down for each 3-goal blunder, leaving them with a B during the opening week of the season. Hard to be upset taking three points in two games!

Jeff Middleton: Patience is Key

Biggest Surprise: Tyler Bertuzzi’s Four-Goal Game

Everyone gets excited for opening night. It’s a fresh slate for every single player. It’s a chance for young guys to make an impression, and it’s also a chance for the more veteran players to move up in the lineup or in rankings across the league. Tyler Bertuzzi has been in the middle of some drama over the offseason due to his vaccination status, and it’s no secret that a fresh slate looks to be what he needed. He came out and scored four goals against the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning. Not only did he just score four goals, but his first goal, in particular, went viral because he went between the legs and split Victor Hedman and Mikhail Sergachev. That kind of play doesn’t happen often. It was a pleasant way to start the season despite the loss.

Biggest Disappoint: Lucas Raymond Goalless

Lucas Raymond impressed the Red Wings’ coaching staff enough to make the 23-man roster to start the season. He’s a young guy with a fair amount to prove among his peers. In the first two games, he has yet to score a goal, and to some, including myself, that is a bit disappointing given how many goals were scored in the two matchups. It’s also a bit disappointing because he’s earned it. In the two games, he has looked excellent. The team hasn’t created a ton of shot attempts while he was on the ice, but the danger of those shots has been good considering he possessed an expected goal for percentage (xGF%) of 59.55 in those games. Don’t worry, he’s going to score a lot, but it was a bit disappointing to see he hasn’t gotten his first.

Overall Thoughts?: B

The grade would be better if they hadn’t blown the multiple leads to the Lightning to start the season. The offense looked great, and the young guys look like they’re slowly getting used to the NHL pace. However, the defense could still use some work, and Alex Nedeljkovic still looks a bit raw behind a defense that is worse than the one he played with while in Carolina. Overall, the Red Wings have been a good team. There are some kinks to work out, and the result in the first week was decent. It’s just a matter of continuing to improve. 

What surprised or disappointed you about the start of the 2021-22 season? Comment below.

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