Alex Nedeljkovic has emerged as the Detroit Red Wings’ primary goaltender but he’s far from satisfied with his performance this season. Nedeljkovic believes his play has mirrored that of a team at 17-17-5.
“Some nights I’m seeing the puck well, and the next night maybe not seeing it as well and I’m fighting it,” Nedeljkovic said. “It’s been too much like a rollercoaster, too many ups and downs for me personally. As a team, you can kind of say the same thing.”
One of those ups came Saturday, when Nedeljkovic recorded his first shutout as a Red Wing, stopping 22 shots in a 4-0 whitewash of Buffalo. As an added bonus, his grandparents were in attendance for the first time in his NHL career.
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“They were just really excited, a little giddy,” he said. “I’m sure they’ll be coming to a lot more now.”
Nedeljkovic was acquired in an offseason trade with Carolina and alternated games with Thomas Greiss when the season began. Nedeljkovic has gradually received more ice time, starting six of the Wings’ seven games this month.
“I just think he’s probably played better. That was the reality of it,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “Greiss is going to be important to us. Greiss heated up around this time last year, and he’ll be important to us but Ned’s done a little bit better job at times, just in terms of the results. It’s certainly still a competition and will remain one the rest of the way.”
Nedeljkovic, who recorded three shutouts with the Hurricanes last season, has an 11-10-4 record and 2.73 goals against average this season. He has allowed three or fewer goals in his last five starts, going 2-2-1 during that stretch.
“Through the course of the season, he’s had a number of moments when he’s looked like a guy who can really be an elite goaltender in this league,” Blashill said. “There’s very few guys that can do it year in and year out. It takes extraordinary commitment and extraordinary results.”
While Nedeljkovic is the team’s top goaltender right now, he has to be more consistent to reach that elite level.
“For me, it’s the fundamentals, the simple things, the pucks that can’t go in,” he said. “Pucks from behind the net, pucks from the wall, from the blue line, from a distance where you see it the whole way or most of the way and they go straight in. I’m trying to clean up some areas like that.”
Sabres eager for rematch
The Red Wings got used to playing the same team back-to-back last season during the COVID-altered schedule. It’s a rarity this season, but they headed to Buffalo on Sunday to face the Sabres again Monday afternoon. The Wings can sweep the four-game season series and Buffalo is determined to salvage the finale.
“I think that’s the best possibility we could have, getting back at ’em right away,” Sabres forward Tage Thompson said. “We have a little unfinished business with them after the way we played the other night. Now’s the perfect time to respond.”
Blashill expects a much different Sabres team on Monday.
“I know we’ll get their best for sure,” he said. “We’ve got to go out and play a great game.”
Raymond ends goal drought
Calder Trophy candidate Lucas Raymond ended a 14-game drought by scoring his 11th goal early in the third period on Saturday. Raymond, who also scored an overtime winner against the Sabres in November, hadn’t found the back of the net since Dec. 1.
“I didn’t realize it had been that long since he scored but he’s been good in the defensive zone,” Nedeljkovic said.