Alex Nedeljkovic came through with a big performance to secure home fans cheered loudest and last.
The Detroit Red Wings had looked forward to Tuesday’s game, looked forward to playing at Little Caesars Arena again after a tough road trip. They needed patience, and they needed Nedeljkovic to make 33 saves against the New York Islanders. And it paid off with a 2-1 victory.
The Wings (14-12-3) improved to 10-3-2 at home and nipped a three-game losing skid.
“Losing three games in a row, it sets you back immensely,” Nedeljkovic said. “To come back and get this win was huge. We had a loud crowd tonight, it was awesome to play in front of. That’s what you want, that energy, that excitement. It makes it way better to play when you have them behind you.”
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Michael Rasmussen scored his third goal of the season with seven minutes to go in the third period. The Islanders pulled their goalie with three minutes to go, and Anders Lee scored 33 seconds later.
Dylan Larkin scored his 11th goal of the season when he fired a shot from the high slot that threaded through traffic, hit goalie Ilya Sorokin, and sank into the corner of the net.
The relief on the Wings’ faces was clear: It had taken half the game, but they finally had a lead. With that done, they grabbed momentum and buzzed around so much in New York’s zone that the Islanders called a timeout. Larkin drew a penalty with three minutes to go in the second period when Jean-Gabriel Pageau high-sticked him, but Sorokin made consecutive saves on Lucas Raymond, Tyler Bertuzzi and Moritz Seider.
Nedeljkovic came up with a big save on Anthony Beauvillier in the final minute of the period to protect the one-goal lead, and the Wings stuck to what worked even as the third period teetered in the balance.
“That’s part of the learning process of learning how to win,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “We’d played a good game but you’re only up 1-0 and you can’t start changing how you’re playing and taking risks and giving them an easy goal. That’s the last thing you can do. You have to find a way to keep the pressure on. We were creating chances playing the right way. It’s a continual lesson we hope to learn to grow our team. We are going to be in lots of close games and you have to learn how to close those out.”
Nedeljkovic big from the start
Nedeljkovic made a big stop on Pageau early in the first period off an Islanders rush. The Wings came into the game determined to improve their puck management after getting lit up in their last three games, 7-3 at Colorado, 6-2 at St. Louis, and 5-2 at home. They did a better job overall at both ends of the ice, generating 14 shots on Sorokin, though a power play 14:16 didn’t yield any decent chances.
Seider and Raymond a big help
Seider fired the pass that Larkin turned into a power play goal midway through the second period. It was Seider’s 17th assist of the season, the most among rookies. Seider’s 20 points in 29 games marks the second-quickest in franchise history a rookie defenseman has reached that mark, behind Hockey Hall of Famer Nicklas Lidstrom, who had three goals and 17 assists in 22 games in 1991-92. Raymond picked up the second assist to earn his 15th assists and 25th point, padding his lead as the top rookie producer in the league. Raymond’s 25 points top that of fellow 2020 first round pick, No. 1 overall Alexis Lafreinière, who had 21 points in 56 career games entering Tuesday.
Zadina down & Veleno out
With Vladislav Namestnikov getting a look on the second line next to Pius Suter and Robby Fabbri, Filip Zadina was bumped to the third line, with Rasmussen and Adam Erne. Zadina has struggled to establish himself as a top-six forward: Teams know he likes the one-timer from the right circle and block it, and he needs to improve his effectiveness around the net. His frustration showed Tuesday as he directed seven shots on net. Veleno, who like Zadina was a 2018 first-round pick, was out of the lineup. He seemingly could have been a fit on the fourth line at least, but Carter Rowney got the nod.
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.