As the 2021-22 season rolls on, the most crucial aspect of the Red Wings’ game is their defense. They’re a team that have scored more goals this season but how do they look on the opposite end of the ice?
What’s Going Well for the Red Wings
Moritz Seider great in all aspects
Drafted #6 overall in the 2019 draft, Seider has proven to be worthy of that high of a pick. The most impressive aspect of him as a player has to be his hockey sense; which is much more mature than that of a 20-year-old rookie. Not only is he a solid defenseman but he has also recorded 29 points (4-25) this season. Currently a front-runner for the Calder trophy, Seider has impressed the league with his speed, puck handling abilities, and notable physicality. Not many rookies can square up with Sidney Crosby and Auston Matthews in back-to-back games!
Poke checking and physicality
Strong poke checks made by the defense in critical moments has been a saving grace. Getting the puck away from opponents with a strong shot, such as Trevor Zegras, has played a huge role in stopping plays that could easily result in a goal.
Having a physical element of defense is crucial at this level of play, and having a tall-statured defensive lineup makes that easier to execute. With heights ranging from 5’10” to 6’4”, the Detroit defense has a lot of big guys that are not afraid to lay hard hits on the opponent. When coupled with a strong level of poke checking, strong hits and clean checks are immensely helpful for clearing the puck out of the zone.
Alex Nedeljkovic has been very good
Nedeljkovic has earned his spot as the starting goalie, having played in 34 games this season with the Red Wings. Most notably, he appeared as the starting goaltender for seven straight games. He recorded his first shutout of the season against Buffalo last month and has a record of 13-13-5 with a .911 save percentage. Nedeljkovic has made several highlight-reel saves in his first season as a Red Wing and the future with him in net is very bright.
There are times in which getting a stick in front of the puck is just not enough to stop the puck from cruising into the net. Tyler Bertuzzi is a player–and not even a defeneman– is not afraid to throw his body in front of the puck, or even into a player, to stop a shot on goal. In the game versus the Leafs on last Saturday, Bertuzzi was able to stop two consecutive shots on an empty net, proving that this team will keep fighting when there’s the chance of winning is lowered. Red Wings teams from a year or two ago would easily crumble the second they fell behind in score, so in moments where players such as Bertuzzi will lay it out to block an empty netter, you can see how far this team has come this season.
What Hasn’t Gone Well for the Red Wings
Careless passes down the middle have been an issue in the last four games
Tossing these haphazard passes down the middle of the ice (which is often wide-open), is essentially an invitation for an opponent to intercept the puck and have an open lane in front of them. When Detroit played Anaheim on Monday, one of these poorly executed passes off the stick of Jordan Oesterle allowed the Ducks to tie the game. Thankfully in that game, Detroit was able to come back and win in overtime with Oesterle scoring the game winner. In other cases when these lofty passes have occurred, there was no chance for the Red Wings to make a comeback.
Not enough blue line depth
Detroit’s defense has a lot of strong players, but line pairings that don’t work well together and under-utilization of some stronger players have caused the blue line to underperform. Most notably, the Seider-DeKeyser pairing has not proven to be effective. Since Seider is a younger, quicker, and more aggressive player than Danny DeKeyser, he oftentimes could use a linemate who has a quicker playing style to share the workload with.
When Detroit obtained Nick Leddy from the New York Islanders, they brought in another older veteran defenseman (820 career games) who plays a game similar to DeKeyser. Neither one of them have been big point scorers this season but are rather serving as battled tested veterans for the younger guys to learn from.
Gustav Lindstrom is a player who largely flies under the radar although he has a great defensive style and can make smart plays but just does not see a ton of ice time in games. Troy Stecher only played six games this season before sustaining a wrist injury that would put him on the injured reserve. Having played 336 career NHL games, Stecher is a sharp, young, and experienced veteran player to have alongside the younger guys such as Seider and Lindstrom.
Collapsing in the 3rd period
When heading into the third period with a lead, the Wings have crumbled under the pressure of maintaining that lead and ended up taking a loss. The same thing happens with ties about half of the time- trying to fall back defensively and not pushing towards the goal. Instead of playing with an aggressive offense, the team collapses into a defensive shell of sorts, causing all of the pressure to become centralized around the blue line. Playing a defensive game is great but there has to be a complementary offensive game happening in order to pull out a win.
Detroit has a strong starting goalie in Alex Nedeljkovic but a team cannot rely solely on one goaltender to have a successful season. Thomas Greiss has played 15 games this season carrying a record of 6-7-1 and a .894 save percentage. Greiss is 10 years older than Nedeljkovic (36 and 26 respectively) and has 332 career games played, but is he the strong backup goaltender that this young team needs?
Calvin Pickard of the Grand Rapids Griffins was called up when Greiss was placed in COVID protocol, allowing him the chance to play in two games, recording one win and one loss. His performance versus the Pittsburgh Penguins last Friday was one to remember with the Red Wings beating the Penguins 3-2 in a shootout and Pickard having a 36 save night. While having only played two games for Detroit this season, Pickard is having an impressive season with Grand Rapids holding a 13-9-5 record and a .925 save percentage.
It’s hard to tell if the Red Wings will keep Greiss or if they will find another backup in a goaltender like Calvin Pickard. Either way, the team needs to find a healthy balance regarding goaltender depth to avoid burning one goalie out.
Ultimately, this year’s defense has been shaken up by the presence of rookie Moritz Seider and has revealed some flaws along the way. What needs to change in order for this team to compete for a cup run in upcoming seasons? There’s no one right answer, but prospects such as Simon Edvinsson are exciting to picture wearing the winged wheel in the near future and hopefully having the same type of impact as Seider has.