With shutout, Alex Nedeljkovic strengthens grip on Red Wings’ No. 1 goalie job

Detroit News

Detroit — Alex Nedeljkovic knew his parents would be driving from Parma, Ohio, for Saturday’s game, but finding out his grandparents would be attending was also a pleasant surprise.

It would be the grandparents’ first NHL game, and getting to see it at Little Caesars Arena was special.

“It was a lot of fun, exciting,” said Nedeljkovic, who made 22 saves in getting his first Wings shutout, a 4-0 victory over the Buffalo Sabres. “I knew they’d be there, and having a great crowd as always here, it was good vibes in the building. It was a lot of fun seeing them afterwards and sharing the memories. Just great.”

As excited as Nedeljkovic was, his grandparents might have been more.

“Happy, a little giddy,” Nedeljkovic said. “My grandma has been my biggest fan since I was growing up. She was very excited. I didn’t realize they were coming until later in the afternoon, I thought it was just my parents.

“But it was exciting. They watch every game when they can.”

Nedeljkovic’s shutout was another indication of his play in recent weeks, as he’s taken over as the No. 1 goalie ahead of Thomas Greiss.

Nedeljkovic has gotten the bulk of the work since late November, all the while providing a level of play similar to when Nedeljkovic was with Carolina last season and was a finalist for the Calder Trophy (rookie of the year).

Nedeljkovic is 11-10-4, with a 2.73 goals against average and .918 save percentage.

“I just think he’s probably played better, that was the reality of it,” coach Jeff Blashill said of his decision to give Nedeljkovic the bulk of the work. “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.”

There’s been enough stretches out of Nedeljkovic to show the Wings might have a goaltender who can hold down the net for a number of years.

“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, and it takes extraordinary commitment and extraordinary results.”

As well as Nedeljkovic has played, he hasn’t been completely pleased. The consistency hasn’t been what he’s wanted, or expected of himself.

“It’s been feeling like hot and cold,” Nedeljkovic said. “Some nights I’m seeing the puck well, and the next night maybe not seeing it as well and I’m fighting it. It’s been too much like a rollercoaster, too many ups and downs for me personally.

“As a team, maybe we can kind of say the same thing. To be successful in this league you have to bring it every night and play consistent and those nights you’re not feeling it, as long as you’re giving it and stay consistent with the work ethic, you’ll get those bounces and you’ll win more games than you’ll lose.”

Nedeljkovic is concentrating on the basics, when analyzing his performance.

“It’s more fundamentals, the simple things, the pucks that can’t go in, pucks from the wall or blue line, from a distance that you see the whole way go straight in,” Nedeljkovic said. “I’m trying to clean up some areas like that and fundamentally be strong every night.”

Early start

Monday’s 1 p.m. start in Buffalo is definitely out of the norm, a weekday afternoon start for hockey players who are mainly creatures of habit and have their set routines.

But in some ways, the afternoon starts are a nice diversion.

“A lot of guys like them,” Blashill said. “It can be a little different at times, but I will tell you it cuts out the nonsense in the morning like the pregame skate and all that. You get right to playing, you get on a flight and get home earlier.

“Certainly your routine is a little different but you play different times for games and you have to adjust your routine.”

The Wings were scheduled to travel to Philadelphia on Tuesday for the back end of a back-to-back, but that game was postponed, and will be rescheduled as the Wings and Flyers work through scheduling postponed games.

Given the Wings’ intense schedule the last two weeks, Tuesday’s postponement might be a blessing.

“If you look at the two weeks in total, it would have been difficult,” Blashill said. “It would have been a long, long stretch of games.”

Red Wings at Sabres

Faceoff: 1 p.m. Monday, KeyBank Center, Buffalo, New York.

TV/radio: BSD/97.1 FM

Outlook: The Sabres (11-20-6) are looking to avoid a season sweep, as the Wings have won the previous three games (two in overtime). … The Wings shut out the Sabres Saturday, 4-0. … The Wings are only 4-11-3 on the road.

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tkulfan

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