Lack of consistent backup goaltending hurting tumbling Detroit Red Wings

Detroit Free Press

TEMPE, Ariz. — Ville Husso will start the next game for the Detroit Red Wings — and given the state of their backups, his workload could keep being heavy.

The Wings wrap up this trip Thursday at the Vegas Golden Knights, under increased pressure to win after coming up short on the first two stops. They were up 3-1 in the third period Tuesday against the Arizona Coyotes, but ended up losing, 4-3, in a shootout after Magnus Hellberg let in two goals a little more than a minute apart in regulation and another two goals in the shootout duel.

“It’s hard to evaluate Hellberg because goals two and three can’t go in on NHL goalies,” coach Derek Lalonde said shortly after the game at Mullett Arena. “I think he’d be the first to admit that. Now with that said, when we were out of gas, he made some saves at the end of the third that got us a point, and he was excellent in overtime.

“It’s a little frustrating, because it felt like three goals should have been enough.”

Travis Boyd and Dylan Guenther scored on wrist shots to make it 3-3, and got beat on both Coyotes attempts in the shootout.

“As I feel now, it was two tough goals,” Hellberg said. “I have to watch video to see what I can do better. Obviously when we have the lead 3-1 in the third period, of course you want to keep them out and win the game in regulation. I’m really disappointed, I wanted to help the team get two points.”

More:Detroit Red Wings unable to get second point vs. lowly Coyotes, fall, 4-3 in shootout

In five starts and six games since being claimed off waivers in November, Hellberg is 2-3-1 with a 2.81 goals-against average and .889 save percentage. The Wings made the unusual decision to carry three goaltenders because Alex Nedeljkovic was struggling, though they continued to play him for a stretch after acquiring Hellberg. Nedeljkovic dropped on the depth chart after a Dec. 8 loss at the Florida Panthers that left him 2-4-2 with a 4.09 GAA and .880 save percentage.

Nedeljkovic, who carries a $3 million salary cap hit to Hellberg’s $750,000, was waived Sunday and assigned to the minors — where he already was on a conditioning stint that began Jan. 4 — the next day after no other NHL team put in a claim. Lalonde said Monday the Wings still have “not given up” on Nedeljkovic.

It’s a tough situation for the Wings and general manager Steve Yzerman. Husso largely has been superb, but has buckled as the work has piled up (he has started 30 of 43 games). After allowing five goals on 22 shots through two periods of Monday’s 6-3 loss at the Colorado Avalanche, Husso’s save percentage has dropped to .899. The Wings don’t have the scoring power to hide subpar goaltending.

The Wings brought Hellberg in at the end of last season to add depth when Thomas Greiss struggled in his role as backup to Nedeljkovic. But Hellberg, 31, has played only 12 NHL games — and knows his job this season isn’t secure just because Nedeljkovic is with the Grand Rapids Griffins, where he has worked on getting his game in order and has posted a 2.30 GAA and .920 save percentage in six games.

More:Detroit Red Wings G Alex Nedeljkovic clears waivers: Still No. 3 in organization, says team

“Ned is a great guy and I think he is a great goalie, too,” Hellberg said. “Obviously there is competition there. He is still in the organization so the competition doesn’t end just because he went down there. I just have to try to work hard every day and prove to the coaching staff and to Yzerman that I deserve to be up here.”

The Wings don’t play back-to-back again until Jan. 26-27. For now, it’s more Husso on the horizon.

“We’ll keep reevaluating our goalie situation, where we are at,” Lalonde said.

Contact Helene St. James at hstjames@freepress.com. 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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