Welcome back to Red Wings Weekly! In this weekly column, we like to take a look at the Red Wings’ most-recent week of play, identify any players and/or trends that stood out, and then look ahead and find out what the next week may have in store for the team from Hockeytown. As always, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section down below.
This week the Detroit Red Wings took a trip through California, a once daunting road trip in the days of Ryan Getzlaf, Joe Thornton, and Drew Doughty’s primes that now features two of the leagues worst teams and a team hopeful to prove that last year’s playoff berth was not a fluke.
Expectations were high for Detroit to snag at least earn four points in these three games, with a chance at stealing five or six if they were lucky. So how did the road trip go? Well, it only took nine seconds for fans’ expectations to be re-considered so let’s get into the games.
Early Goal Spells Doom in Los Angeles
11/12 at Los Angeles Kings, 4-3 Loss
Allowing the first goal of the game is bad. Allowing the first goal of the game in the first five minutes is worse. Allowing the first goal of the game nine seconds in on the game’s first shot is unacceptable. The main culprit in my eyes is Filip Hronek who completely abandoned his post just 3 seconds into the game, deciding to . . . no that can’t be right . . . he decided to pinch in to the opposing team’s blue line to support the forecheck that wasn’t there.
He left poor Olli Määttä all on his own to defend a two-on-one with Michael Rasmussen trying (and failing) to catch up. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a Hronek hit piece. He’s been better than expected this year and it’s not only his fault, this was just not the move to start the game.
Detroit also didn’t only lose because of this goal, they only managed 10 total shots in the first 40 minutes and allowed 17 shots against. Alex Nedeljkovic bounced back a bit after allowing the ultra-early goal, but not well enough, allowing four goals in the first 34 minutes of the game. He was perfect from then on, but the deficit was a bit too large for the Red Wings to dig out of, despite the full support of the power play (two goals on four power play opportunities) and a payback goal by Hronek who launched a slapshot past Kings goalie Cal Peterson (thanks to a great screen by Kings defender Alex Edler).
It ultimately wasn’t enough, but the turnaround that the Red Wings showed in the third period was impressive, with two goals for on 11 shots while only allowing four shots against. This is a game worth celebrating as it was Detroit’s first regulation loss where the margin of defeat was less than three goals. Losses are never fun, but at least it wasn’t a blowout, I guess.
Final Grade: C
Johnny Burgers has Arrived!
11/15 @ Anaheim Ducks, 3-2 OT Loss
After being called up from the Grand Rapids Griffins last week, Jonatan Berggren, one of Detroit’s top forward prospects, has begun to prove that he belongs in the NHL. This was his third game in the lineup due to a terrible run of injuries to the team’s forward corps and he has taken this opportunity and run with it.
Berggren has played few minutes at five-on-five, with the Red Wings coaching staff clearly not ready to trust him with important even strength minutes. However, he has earned a decent amount of time on the second power play unit where he opened the scoring in this one, and it was a beauty. Hronek’s point shot wound up hitting Ducks defender Colton White in the head and then bounced right to Berggren at the side of the net. Now, you might think that was a lucky bounce, and it was, but what came next was due to Berggren’s skill, not his luck. The puck was at his feet and quickly skittering toward the corner boards, but Berggren managed to kick the puck to his stick and one-tap it into the net before John Gibson could reach across.
The reason I’m spending so much time on the opening goal is because it was awesome and the rest of the game was not, with Detroit losing their 1-0 lead as well as a 2-1 lead in the final minute of the third period. When overtime began, the Red Wings dominated possession, with seven shot attempts and five shots on goal. It all came crashing down when the Ducks finally broke the puck out and Tyler Bertuzzi, who was playing his first game since returning from breaking his hand on the opening weekend of the season, made a huge mistake, gently tossing a pass into Ryan Strome’s back from behind the goal line. Strome and Trevor Zegras had plenty of time to get Husso out of position and Strome potted the easy overtime winner.
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The better team doesn’t always win, but the Ducks were the NHL’s 32nd overall team going into this game so it felt like Detroit should have had it in the bag. Regardless, a somewhat easy trip through California had suddenly soured and the next game against the San Jose Sharks had become a lot more important.
Final Grade: C+
Moritz Seider’s First Goal of the Year Is the Game Winner
11/17 at San Jose Sharks, 7-4 Win
This wasn’t the prettiest game, with the Sharks holding Detroit to just one shot in the first nine minutes of the game. Thankfully, the Red Wings managed to score on their second shot to relieve some of the pressure. Hronek continued his recent run of solid play (maybe it’s the moustache) with an incredibly important game-tying goal in the first after Kevin Labanc opened the scoring, the fifth time in the last six games that Detroit has allowed the first goal.
San Jose took the lead back later in the first, but the Red Wings looked a lot better in the second period, scoring two goals for their first lead of the night. The Sharks fought back a bit in the third, but Detroit has already taken over, scoring four more goals in the final frame to win 7-4. Moritz Seider, who has been off to a well-documented slow start to his sophomore season, scored his first goal of the campaign to make it 5-4, the game-winning goal.
This was the first time this year that Detroit has scored seven or more goals, their previous season high was just five (against the Ducks and the New Jersey Devils). Erik Karlsson had another incredible game for the Sharks, with one goal and three assists, extending his lead in the NHL’s defenseman scoring race to eight points (Adam Fox is in second place with 20 points). Karlsson is now sitting at 28 points in 18 games, tied for the second most points in the league with the Edmonton Oilers’ Leon Draisaitl. Yes you heard that right, the only NHL player with more points than Karlsson is Connor McDavid!
I loved watching prime Erik Karlsson back with the Ottawa Senators, so it’s been a blast to see him finally beginning to thrive with the Sharks, I’d just prefer he didn’t thrive so much against Detroit.
This game was a little bit of a mess, but it was a much needed win on a road trip that gradually became more important as the week went on.
Final Grade: B+
3 Takeaways from the Week
Fourth Worst Faceoff Percentage in the NHL
I know everyone has already beaten the dead horse of Detroit’s lacklustre five-on-five play so far this year, so I wanted to quickly detail one reason why that is still a huge issue for them. The Red Wings have the fourth worst faceoff percentage in the league, worse than teams like the Arizona Coyotes and Washington Capitals. Faceoff wins lead to possession of the puck and Detroit absolutely has to improve in the faceoff dot if they want to make anything resembling a serious run at making the playoffs.
Detroit has only won 45.5% of their faceoffs so far and have only one center who is winning over 50% of his draws. Larkin has won just over 53% of his faceoffs this year which is slightly above his career average, but appears to be sustainable. Andrew Copp has only won 42.6%, Michael Rasumussen has won 45.1%, and Joe Veleno has won an abysmal 31.3% of his draws (face-off stats from QuantHockey). If you only start 45% of plays with the puck, it’s tough to control a game, and even harder to win one.
Kubalik is Still Scoring Tons of Points
As soon as Red Wings forwards began dropping like flies, Kubalik began to show just what he was capable of. Being the smart hockey fan that I am, I quickly snatched him up in every fantasy hockey league that I could and enjoyed as the points rolled in. However, being the fickle hockey fan that I am, I also dropped him in each of those leagues after a few weeks because I wasn’t convinced that he could keep it up and I expected he would fall back to earth as a third liner.
Boy was I wrong. Kubalik has not slowed down one bit, leading the team in scoring after 17 games with 20 points. Recently he has been lining up on the second line and has made the team a real offensive threat even when Larkin and Raymond aren’t on the ice. The value of his contract is only increasing with each game, and it looks like Steve Yzerman found an absolute steal in free agency.
Easy Upcoming Schedule
Detroit will only play five games in the next two weeks (Nov. 18 – Nov. 30), and at least three of them are against teams that are either built to fail or that are currently in a major slump. If these weeks go well for the Red Wings, they could hold onto the top wild card spot that they are currently settled in.
Next week they’ll face the Columbus Blue Jackets who have faced the worst injury luck in the NHL so far this year and are currently 30th overall in the league. Then they’ll meet against the Nashville Predators who have had a very underwhelming start to their season with goaltender Jusse Saros looking human after an incredible season last year.
The following week Detroit will face off against the Coyotes, followed by the ever-chaotic Toronto Maple Leafs. Lastly, they will meet up with the Buffalo Sabres for the first time since their horrendous game on Halloween, however, the Sabres hold a 1-7-0 record in their eight games since that terrifying night. They’ve been majorly slumping and hopefully Detroit can capitalize on that.
This will be a relatively soft two-week stretch, so if the Red Wings can come out of these five games with seven or more points, they will be poised to hold onto a playoff spot. If they manage something like five points, they will probably solidify themselves as a playoff bubble team, battling for third place in a wild card race that only permits two teams to make the playoffs.
3 Stars of the Week
3. Dominik Kubalik (2g, 2a)
2. David Perron (1g, 3a)
1. Filip Hronek (2g, 2a)
Prospect to Watch
After scoring just one point in his first four NCAA games, Dylan James (40th overall in 2022 Draft) has broken out with five points in as many games giving him a total of six points in his first nine games of the season. Last year’s USHL rookie of the year is now tied for the third most points among forwards on the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks. His physical two-way style will continue to endear him to fans and also lead to greater responsibility as the season continues, but it’s nice to see the offense starting to come for James this year.
Expectations Were Not Met
Detroit came out of this road trip with just three points in three games which has dropped them from a tie for second in the Atlantic division to the top wild card spot in the NHL’s Eastern Conference. They’re only two points away from second again, but that was why they needed to win their easy matchups, so that they could hold their ground in the standings.
Their performance was a bit below expectations, but the soft schedule that they face over the next week should prove whether Detroit will last as a fringe playoff team or if their weak even strength play will finally catch up to them and drop them out of the playoff race entirely. Hopefully it’s the former.
Logan is a sports writer for the Detroit Red Wings as a member of The Hockey Writers team. He loves reading about statistics and advanced analytics, and discovering how they can enrich his hockey analysis and writing. Logan also writes about more general hockey topics on his blog https://www.crashthecrease.blog.