All victories are satisfying, but Thursday’s meant just a tad bit more for Red Wings goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic.
How could it not?
Shutting out his former employer, the Carolina Hurricanes, 3-0, with a sparkling 46-save performance. That felt good, for sure.
“Any time you can get a shutout in this league it’s always special,” Nedeljkovic said. “Maybe tonight was a little bit more.”
Nedeljkovic was a finalist for rookie of the year in Carolina last season. But because he was a restricted free agent with arbitration rights, the Hurricanes decided to ship Nedeljkovic elsewhere instead of risking paying more than they’d be comfortable with.
The Wings were glad to be trading partners, simply giving up the rights for free-agent goalie Jonathan Bernier (who didn’t even sign with Carolina) and a third-round draft pick for a possible goaltender of the future.
“It’s a game, but there’s a business side to it,” he said. “They had to make (the decision) they thought was best for them, and honestly, it’s a really good move for me, as well. I was given an opportunity here to play a lot of games and I’m very excited with the opportunity.”
Coach Jeff Blashill expected to split the workload between Nedeljkovic and Thomas Greiss. But Greiss has battled injuries and inconsistency, leading to Nedeljkovic appearing in a career-high 54 games.
Nedeljkovic has struggled the second half of the season, possibly due to the workload. But Nedeljkovic is embracing the challenge and has enjoyed the opportunity to gain more NHL experience.
“It’s been a great opportunity to play a lot of games,” Nedeljkovic said. “Would I have liked to have been a little more consistent, a little better overall? Absolutely. But that’s part of learning. It’s part of playing a game. You’re not going to have your best every night.
“It’s been a while since I had a workload like this. I’m trying to embrace it. I want to be in the net every night. I’d love to play all 82 games, honestly. You don’t get to do this for a long time. For me, it’s about having fun and treasuring and cherishing the moment, and anytime I get on that ice, I’m not taking it for granted.”
Nedeljkovic is 19-21-9, with a 3.27 goals-against average, and .903 save percentage. The second half has been a level below the first half, but the way Nedeljkovic battled Thursday was a glimmer into how good Nedeljkovic can be — and is — when he’s right.
“He’s continued to work and continued to be solution-based and grind and find ways to get out of this,” Blashill said. “He’s worked with (goaltending coach) Jeff Salajko, and they’ve put a lot of time in.
“He hasn’t gotten too down on himself, and sometimes that’s important. He has a self-belief and that self-belief is critical when you go through struggles.”
Blashill has often talked about how the Wings need to have more of an aggressive shot mentality and not look to pass, or look for the perfect play, as much.
Filip Zadina, for the most part, is one player who isn’t bashful about shooting the puck.
And Thursday, with the Wings leading but looking for a bit more insurance, Zadina blasted his 10th goal while keeping his eyes squarely at the net.
“Zadina’s a guy for me, he doesn’t suffer from not shooting it,” Blashill said. “He likes to shoot the puck and that’s a positive thing. Over the long haul of his career, it’s going be a benefit for him.”
Red Wings at Rangers
► Faceoff: 12:30 p.m. Saturday, Madison Square Garden, New York
► TV/radio: BSD/97.1
► Outlook: The Rangers (48-21-6) find themselves only two points from division-leading Carolina, after the Wings defeated the Hurricanes Thursday…The Rangers and Wings have split two games this season, each going to overtime…LW Artemi Panarin (67 assists, 89 points) and G Igor Shesterkin (34-11-4, 2.09 GAA, .934 SVS) have led the way this season on a deep, talented team.