Alex Nedeljkovic already had a major reason to look forward to April, and now the Detroit Red Wings have added to the excitement.
Nedeljkovic is earmarked to start Saturday when the Wings play a matinee at the Philadelphia Flyers. It will be Nedeljkovic’s first NHL start since Dec. 8, and a chance to regain his footing.
“There’s 11 games and we’re mathematically we’re still in the playoff hunt,” Nedeljkovic said Friday. “But you’re always playing for something, it doesn’t matter if it’s Game 82 or whatever it is. Every day is a chance to get better and prove something.
“I’ve felt really good, especially the last two- and-a-half, three weeks. I felt like I’ve gotten back to myself, gotten back to what has worked for me in the past and what has made me successful.”
What Nedeljkovic, 27, needs to prove is whether he can regain the form that made him a starter last season. He and Ville Husso split the net when this season began, where Nedeljkovic in nine games had a 2-4-2 record with a 4.09 goals-against average and a 0.880 save percentage. He was waived and assigned to the minors, where he played until an injury to Husso created an opening with the Wings.
Husso is being evaluated for a lower-body injury, and the Wings do not yet have a clear picture regarding his status.
Forward Filip Zadina won’t be available because of a lower-body injury, but Adam Erne is expected to return, so that puts the Wings at 12 forwards. Simon Edvinsson will make the trip and could play his fourth game.
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Husso was slated to play Thursday, but a nagging injury led to Nedeljkovic packing his gear and joining the team in the afternoon.
“It’s unfortunate Hus is dealing with something, you never want to see anyone get hurt, but that’s the job,” Nedeljkovic said. “I’m just thankful for the opportunity.
“Obviously I’m playing for a new contract and trying to play for the guys in front of me. Have success personally, but also win games. It’s so much better when you win games and you come in the locker room and the music is playing and everyone is having fun.”
Nedeljkovic played about 25 minutes in Thursday’s 4-3 loss to the St. Louis Blues, called in to replace Magnus Hellberg after he allowed three goals on 13 shots. The first shot Nedeljkovic faced, which he let in, was a breakaway, but he responded with eight saves.
“I love the fact he got the last 26-27 minutes and performed well,” Lalonde said. “I love the way he handles the puck — I think it’s a different dimension that he adds to us and helps us out of our zone. I’m excited about giving him an opportunity and him getting back in the net.”
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Playing in the minors allowed Nedeljkovic to get back into a starter’s routine, rather than the backup role he slid into this season in Detroit. If he plays well at Philadelphia, he’s likely to start again Tuesday when the Wings host the Pittsburgh Penguins. But, a game at a time. Nedeljkovic, who hasn’t shied away from addressing his struggles, has learned to focus on what he can control.
“It’s just taking away some positives and understanding it’s not the end of the world if you let in a goal,” he said. “Obviously you want to make the save, but there are bigger things in life going on and just try to enjoy the moments.”
That bigger thing in life is fatherhood: Nedeljkovic’s wife, Emma, is expecting the couple’s first child, a boy, in mid-April.
“It’s very exciting,” Nedeljkovic said, smiling. “I’ll let everyone know when he’s here. You can send all the baby gifts to LCA and I”ll get them.”
Contact Helene St. James at email@example.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.