Detroit Red Wings’ Alex Nedeljkovic dejected after another bad night: ‘I just need to execute’

Detroit Free Press

SUNRISE, Fla. — Alex Nedeljkovic looked crestfallen as he addressed his latest performance.

That the Detroit Red Wings face the Dallas Stars Saturday needing to flush a bad outing against the Panthers isn’t all on Nedeljkovic, but while blame for Thursday’s 5-1 loss spreads to entire team, it was Nedeljkovic who was trying to explain a third straight start where he gave up at least four goals. The Panthers scored twice inside a minute two separate times in the second period.

“I think that’s just what it is lately,” Nedeljkovic said in the visitors locker room at FLA Live Arena. “It’s been one goes in, it’s followed by another and then another. I think that’s every game now — except for in New York and the first Jersey game, I’ve given up four, at least. It’s been tough.”

Nedeljkovic has allowed at least four goals in six of his eight starts. The Wings have turned to Ville Husso as much as possible, but he needed a mental and physical break after starting three straight games, including a back-to-back last weekend. Coach Derek Lalonde said Husso will start against the Stars, after which the Wings don’t play again until Tuesday, against the Carolina Hurricanes.

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It was Nedeljkovic’s 1.90 goals-against average and .932 save percentage in 23 games with the Hurricanes in the pandemic shortened 2021 season that led general manager Steve Yzerman to acquire Nedeljkovic, 25, in the summer of 2021. Nedeljkovic was solid last season, posting a 3.31 GAA and .901 save percentage for the Wings.

He doesn’t have an explanation for what happened this season. He and Husso alternated starts the first six games, until Husso’s play earned a heavier workload. Nedeljkovic seemed to right himself with a terrific outing against at Rangers on Nov. 6, but he looked shaky when he next started, Nov. 12 at Los Angeles, and gave up four goals again Nov. 30 against the Buffalo Sabres.

More:How Detroit Red Wings’ Alex Nedeljkovic has tried to stay sharp as goalie: ‘It’s mental’

“He’s in a tough situation where he is not getting action in between games and then he might get some of these assignments where it’s our third game on our road trip,” Lalonde said. “We didn’t give him any chance at all. If we played our game, play the way we are capable, we give ourselves a chance. We didn’t give ourselves a chance at all.

“He had a really good first period, and then a breakaway beats him, and then it kind of fell apart in the second. Lot of volume, made a lot of good saves, again, our team game wasn’t good enough.”

Lalonde emphasized that, “Nedo was not an issue. It was our team play.”

It was a poor team performance against the Panthers, notably so after how well the Wings played two nights earlier in Tampa. There was no energy, no grit, no sustained pressure. They were outshot, 41-20. Dylan Larkin spoke afterwards of how teammates can help a struggling goalie.

“You can clear out the front of the net, you can keep them to the outside,” Larkin said. “We didn’t do that. It’s a tough challenge with how dynamic they are and how fast they play in transition. We minimized in the first part of the game, but they woke up and we didn’t have an answer for it.”

Nedeljkovic looked dejected as he spoke after the game.

“I think just making him feel normal, joking around, making sure their head doesn’t get down,” Larkin said when asked about stoking Nedeljkovic’s confidence off the ice. “We all really try and pick each other up and I think that’s a really good sign in here and something I’ve been very impressed with.”

Lalonde said there hadn’t been any discussions about recalling goaltender Magnus Hellberg, claimed off waivers in November, from the minors. The Wings next back-to-back comes next week, when they are at Minnesota on Wednesday after the Hurricanes game.

Until his next game, Nedeljkovic has time to figure out how to right himself.

“I felt good,” he said. “Lot of shots early. I don’t know. I felt good. I felt good in practice. I just need to execute.”

Contact Helene St. James at Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her latest book, “On the Clock: Behind the Scenes with the Detroit Red Wings at the NHL Draft,” is available from  Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.

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