Detroit — Alex Nedeljkovic wanted to get some work in, needed to get work in, and the Grand Rapids Griffins schedule supplied him with that opportunity.
The Red Wings goaltender only played two games in the last month, and had been supplanted as Ville Husso’s back up by Magnus Hellberg.
So when general manager Steve Yzerman presented Nedeljkovic with the option to play for the Griffins, Nedeljkovic jumped at it.
“I haven’t played a lot,” Nedeljkovic told reporters Saturday after the Griffins’ 3-2 shootout loss to Texas. “Any chance I could to get in the net, I was going to take it.”
Nedeljkovic stopped 36 of 38 shots Saturday, continuing an impressive three-game stretch since going to Grand Rapids. In three games, Nedeljkovic is 2-0-1 with a 1.63 goals-against average and .950 save percentage.
Playing three games in four nights isn’t easy for anyone, specifically for a goaltender, and a goaltender who has played so little as Nedeljkovic recently.
But Nedeljkovic was excited about playing Saturday and completing the busy stretch.
“I’ve done it before,” said Nedeljkovic, recalling his previous AHL workload. “I’ve had plenty of rest obviously the last four weeks to be able to go again.”
Griffins coach Ben Simon had no problem going back to Nedeljkovic on the quick turnaround.
“He’s handled himself tremendously,” Simon said. “From where he came from and worked to get to, and agreeing to the conditioning assignment, he came in here and he wanted to play as much as he can and wanted to find his game. He wanted to play again (Saturday) and he deserved it. He hasn’t played in three games in four nights in a long time, but as long as he’s ready to go he’s earned the opportunity to continue to play.”
For a goalie, maybe especially, playing in actual games and facing live shots is beneficial than simply facing shots in practice.
And in Nedeljkovic’s case, with the three goalies in Detroit, a goaltender isn’t even going to see the total number of shots if only two goalies were sharing the load.
“In practice you work hard and face shots, but you never get the same intensity out of practice than in a game,” Nedeljkovic said. “Same thing with the mental side of the game, you’re going to give up goals you don’t want while facing 200 shots in practice but then you face 20 to 40 shots in a game and any one of them can be the game winner, so the mental pressure is amped up (in actual games).”
A goaltender faces different challenges in the AHL, compared to the NHL. The shooters are so much more accurate and have more velocity in the NHL. There’s more structure in the NHL and fewer breakdowns.
The young players in the AHL can make it more interesting even for their own goalies with inexperienced mistakes, but Nedeljkovic insists his job remains the same.
“Stop the puck,” Nedeljkovic said. “They’re young and make some mistakes , but that’s how you learn and grow. I was in the same boat in my position for a couple years in this league.”
Soderblom heads to GR
With Tyler Bertuzzi and Filip Zadina close to returning to the lineup, the Wings decided Sunday to assign Elmer Soderblom to Grand Rapids.
Soderblom, 21, has five goals and three assists (eight points) in 21 games with the Red Wings. Soderblom had a six-game point streak (three goals, three assists) from Dec. 14-31 after playing two games in Grand Rapids on a conditining stint. He missed a month with a lower-body injury.
Zadina injured his leg Nov. 5 blocking a shot and hasn’t played since. Bertuzzi suffered a left-hand injury Nov. 30, after breaking his other hand earlier this season.
Both Zadina and Bertuzzi have been practicing for over a week, and are expected to return just before, or during, a three-game road trip beginning Jan. 16 in Colorado.