Alex Nedeljkovic knew it would be a thrill to play for the Detroit Red Wings, having grown up in the area playing youth hockey.
He delivered a thrilling performance himself to right the Wings and end a four-game winless streak, sending them onto Saturday’s contest against the Buffalo Sabres with renewed confidence. Nedeljkovic withstood the St. Louis Blues’ relentless attack in the third period of Wednesday’s game, making 14 saves to secure the Wings a 4-2 victory.
“He was outstanding,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “Made huge saves, because we gave up way too many chances. But you like to get better while you’re winning and the goalie gives you a chance to do that. I thought he was great.”
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General manager Steve Yzerman added Nedeljkovic to the rebuild in the offseason from the Carolina Hurricanes, who balked at paying Nedeljkovic the money he deserved after a Calder Trophy finalist performance in 2021. At 25, Nedeljkovic fits right into the core age group that includes Dylan Larkin, Tyler Bertuzzi and Filip Hronek.
The trade was a great outcome for Nedeljkovic, whose summer also included getting married and signing a two-year, $6 million deal. With the relocation from Carolina, he now goes home to his wife, Emma, and their dog, Zeke.
“I was just excited, honestly,” Nedeljkovic said. “This has been home for a long time. I grew up playing hockey all around the metro Detroit area, played against a lot of guys. I played against and with Larks growing up. I played with a lot of guys from this area that are in the NHL right now. So it’s definitely special to call this place home and be able to play here.”
Nedeljkovic made 35 saves total against the Blues, improving his season numbers to a 2.76 goals-against average and .917 save percentage. He and Thomas Greiss (3.41 GAA, .901 save percentage) have taken turns starting games, and are key reasons the Wings sit at 9-9-3.
“It’s hard to win in this league without good goaltending,” Blashill said. “The reality is you need to need have upper-level goaltending to win, and we’re certainly in that boat. We don’t want to give up the number of chances we’ve given up over the last little bit, so we’ve got to get better in that area to help them maintain their steady play, but then ultimately then they’ve got to do their job and continue to play at that level.”
Improving team defense has been a focal point, but the Wings needed Nedeljkovic to bail them out especially the last 20 minutes against the Blues. Like every goaltender, Nedeljkovic said he wants to give his teammates “the confidence to play with some swagger, knowing that if something slips up, I’ll able to make the save for them.
“As a group we’ve gotten better at being more consistent. Chemistry is there, everybody is comfortable with each other. Just some nights, we’re having too many miscues and we’re not as consistent as we’d like to be. Coming into December, we’ve got to tighten up and really start to hunker down.”
Contact Helene St. James at email@example.com. 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.