Surely, the 2022-23 season hasn’t exactly started the way Detroit Red Wings goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic envisioned.
Through six games, the 26-year-old netminder is sporting a 4.33 GAA and a .873 SV% to go with his 2-3-1 record. In addition, his -6.56 goals-saved above average is fifth-worst in the NHL.
So what’s wrong with Nedeljkovic? Why is he struggling while Ville Husso is thriving? Let’s dig in and find out.
Analyzing Nedeljkovic’s Goals Against
You can tell a lot about a goalie by the goals they allow. With this in mind, I rewatched the tape of all 26 goals Nedeljkovic has let in this season and categorized them by shot difficulty:
- Bad Goal – The goalie should have stopped this, but didn’t.
- Medium Goal – Not the best goal to allow and could have been stopped in some instances.
- Difficult Goal – If the goalie did one thing better or quicker, they would have stopped it, but we’re bordering on perfection here.
- No Chance Goal – The puck was going in regardless of how perfect the goalie played it.
Through six games, Nedeljkovic has allowed eight bad goals, four medium goals, six difficult goals, and eight no chance goals. The amount of bad goals is concerning – and they’re costing the team. If you take them away, the Red Wings would likely have a couple more wins this season.
In addition, three common themes stuck out when reviewing the tape.
First, rebound control has been an issue for Nedeljkovic. There have been a handful of times when he should have trapped the puck or deflected it safely into the corner, only to kick it out into the slot. This causes the defense to scramble and gives opponents a prime opportunity to bury the rebound, as was the case with this goal:
Nedeljkovic should have trapped the initial shot from the point – he saw it all the way and it rebounded into a dangerous area. Instead, Chicago gained possession and quickly scored while Detroit’s defense fell apart.
Second, Nedeljkovic has been slow to react on several occasions. It’s almost as if he’s tracking the shooter and not the puck itself.
There have been multiple times when Nedeljkovic gave up goals on low-danger wristers from the top of the circles. He had clear sight lines and had plenty of time to react, but didn’t get in front of the puck quick enough, like with the goal below:
Finally, Detroit’s defensive zone coverage can be blamed for a lot of the goals. Regardless of whether Nedeljkovic could have stopped the eventual shot or not, the team around him wasn’t providing much support. Robert Hagg and Adam Erne show up more often than not in these situations, including this goal against the Buffalo Sabres:
When the defense isn’t in position, goalies tend to overthink and overcompensate, which, of course, is not good. As a result, they lose confidence in the ability to play their game, and focus on other variables besides the puck carrier. You can see this in Nedeljkovic’s decision-making – keeping one eye on the shooter (metaphorically) and the other on someone the defense should be covering.
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Red Wings Remedy for Nedeljkovic
So how can Nedeljkovic fix these issues? For that answer, I turned to Darren Hersh, founder of The Goalie Academy, a Washington D.C.-area goaltending school.
“Technically, he is not tracking the puck or reading shots off the stick blade well,” Hersh noted. “He has to get back to basics and try not to overthink things.”
“Most of the goals against are not his fault,” the long-time goaltending coach added, “but bad breakdowns by the Red Wings defense are causing him to try to do too much. Sometimes, he is overplaying passes instead of playing the puck where it is at that moment. His body language after goals is also not what you want to see.”
In addition, Hersh noted that a stretch of rough outings can impact a goalie’s confidence. That certainly seems to be the case for Nedeljkovic, who had a tough game in Chicago, sat for four straight, then got lit up against the Sabres.
The Buffalo game, in particular, was about as bad as it gets for any goalie.
“I would think that the coaching staff would have pulled him in order to save his psyche,” Hersh noted. “Instead, the staff allowed him to stay in the game and take the drubbing, and that is simply not going to have a positive effect on the goalie.”
So what’s next for Detroit’s netminder?
“Nedeljkovic is in a tough situation,” Hersh shared. “Now he’s got to find his way out of it. And that includes accepting the position he’s in and then working on to track the puck better and focus on the basics to get his confidence back.”
By focusing on the basics, Nedeljkovic can build back up his confidence with quick wins. And it already appears that the Red Wings are working on simple things, like tracking the puck around a screen:
It’s clear that Nedeljkovic is struggling with tracking the puck and rebound control, and Detroit’s defense isn’t doing him any favors. But these issues can be fixed.
Nedeljkovic needs to get back to the fundamentals to build his confidence back up. Simple drills with Red Wings goalie coach Alex Westlund focused on rebound control and tracking the puck itself are good ways to refine his game. Then, Nedeljkovic needs to focus on executing in game settings – whenever an opportunity arises.
Tony Wolak is based in the Washington D.C. area and covers the Detroit Red Wings for THW. As a former junior and college hockey player, Tony has a unique perspective on Red Wings topics.