Red Wings goalie Alex Nedeljkovic sits, waits for next opportunity to shake slump

Detroit News

Columbus — Ville Husso is getting the start in net Sunday for the Red Wings again.

It’s the back end of a back-to-back, on the road, not even a full 24 hours difference, but it’s Husso starting — and Alex Nedeljkovic watching.

“It was a tough decision because of the back-to-back, but the combination of how Ville played last night and the fact he didn’t see a whole lot (of shots against), as far as load management, it wasn’t a hugely straining game,” coach Derek Lalonde said.

Which means Nedeljkovic will sit, as he’s done often lately.

Nedeljkovic has only started one of the last nine games (he also relieved Husso once in that span), and three of the last 15 games. He started Wednesday’s game against Buffalo, a 5-4 shootout loss. Nedeljkovic started poorly but bounced back to stop 30 of 34 shots and keep the Wings in the game.

But with a 2-3-2 record, a 3.97 goals-against average and .880 save percentge, Nedeljkovic’s struggles right now make it difficult to play him, while the Wings aim to stay in early-season playoff contention.

“It’s up to him to play his way out of it,” Lalonde said. “We need Ned at his best and have two goalies going, especially with the way this season (schedule), it’s on him. We’re going to fully support him and get him in again (into a game).

“It’s just on him to perform.”

Nedeljkovic was 20-24-9 last season with a 3.31 GAA and .901 SVS, and four shutouts. Nedeljkovic, himself, took over the starting position over Thomas Greiss the first half of the season. But the heavy workload may have tired Nedeljkovic the second half, as his performance was more inconsistent.

Consistency has been an issue from the beginning this season, with lack of confidence possibly seeping into the equation lately.

“It’s getting to that point now,” Lalonde said. “There’s been a lot of goals in there that he would want back. Even on his saves, he just looks like he’s battling a bit. I do think there’s a mental part of it and like any athlete in any position, just battle your way out of it. Alex is in the midst of it.”

Road warrior

Forward Austin Czarnik, recalled from Grand Rapids earlier in the week to replace Tyler Bertuzzi (upper-body), is obviously enjoying his time with the Wings.

Czarnik is a Washington Township native who attended Romeo High School, and still has family and friends in the area. Czarnik is also pleased to be able to be staying in his Metro Detroit residence rather, than commute to Grand Rapids.

“It’s been hectic for sure,” said Czarnik, whose family has continued to live in southeast Michigan. “We’re making it work and we’re happy to be given this opportunity. We could have been in the AHL the whole year and not get the opportunity, so we’re very fortunate for this opportunity and taking it day by day.”

Czarnik has a place in Grand Rapids that he uses around game days, or a busy Griffins’ home schedule.

“I just bounce back and forth,” Czarnik said “On days off I go home, after a game day, the next day I’ll go home. Nothing too crazy.”

This is the second time the Wings have recalled Czarnik, who Lalonde feels is a valuable asset.

“Very valuable,” Lalonde said. “We don’t get to see these guys every day (in Grand Rapids), but we trust Austin, we him. He understands our culture and gets along with the guys. Just plug him in easily. It’s very important to have a guy that can come up seamlessly.”

Czarnik has been playing on a line with Jonatan Berggren and Joe Veleno. The line has been effective in limited minutes, with Veleno and Berggren having chemistry from last season in Grand Rapids and Czarnik and Berggren playing together during several games with the Griffins this season.

“(Berggren is) a good player,” Czarnik said. “We have been good when we’re moving our feet and creating energy and making plays. That’s what you need out of the fourth line.”

Ice chips

Dylan Larkin’s assist Saturday was the 228th of his NHL career, passing Marcel Dionne for sole possession of 22nd place on the Wings’ all-time list.

… Russ Baumann, the Wings’ physical therapist and assistant athletic trainer, worked his 1,500th professional hockey game Saturday.

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tkulfan

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