I’ve got good news and even better news.
The good news: the Detroit Red Wings won their home opener against the Tampa Bay Lightning, and though they lost their season opener against the New Jersey Devils, they generally played well and looked as improved over last season as advertised.
The even better news: the Grand Rapids Griffins, the Red Wings’ American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate, won the first two games of their season, defeating the Colorado Eagles 3-2 on Oct. 13 and 5-2 on Oct. 14 as well.
In typical fashion, Van Andel Arena was an electric atmosphere as the puck dropped on the Griffins’ 28th season. With a new head coach (Dan Watson) and a number of new faces, the Griffins and their fans were eager to turn the page on a disappointing 2022-23 season. While there is still plenty for the team to work on, early returns suggest that this season’s team is capable of succeeding where last season’s team struggled and, ultimately, failed.
Hutchinson & Cossa Shine in First Starts
During the offseason, there was an air of mystery surrounding the Griffins’ goaltending situation. Red Wings general manager (GM) Steve Yzerman signed two goalies in the offseason, James Reimer and Alex Lyon, and the general assumption was that one of those two would start the season in Grand Rapids as the Griffins’ clear-cut starter. The backup role would be decided between two goaltenders that played with the Toledo Walleye (ECHL) last season: Sebastian Cossa and John Lethemon.
Latest News & Highlight
Instead, the Red Wings opted to keep both Reimer and Lyon on their roster, and the Griffins found themselves in need of a reliable veteran to pair with their younger, inexperienced goaltenders. Michael Hutchinson, a 33-year-old veteran with over 150 NHL games to his credit, was released from his tryout agreement with the Red Wings and then promptly signed one with the Griffins. After initially not being on anyone’s radar in regards to who the Griffins’ goaltenders would be this season, he was the man in goal for the Griffins’ first game of the season.
The Griffins won that game thanks to a pair of goals from Taro Hirose in the third period, but Hutchinson’s 40 saves on 42 shots allowed the Griffins to stay in the game until their push in the third period came. The veteran was composed throughout the night, making routine saves look easy and hard saves look routine. The Eagles were the better team for most of this game, but there’s a reason people call good goaltending “the great equalizer”.
Subscribe to our FREE Red Wings email and never miss the latest from The Hockey Writers!
The following night, the 20-year-old Cossa made his first start of the season. There was a lot of chatter surrounding the young goaltender this offseason, and it stems from expectations set by his draft position. Drafted 15th overall back in 2021, Cossa is the highest-drafted goalie prospect the Red Wings have ever sent to Grand Rapids, and he was the first goalie taken in that draft. After an up-and-down season in the ECHL (or down-and-up if you want to get technical), the general hope among Red Wings and Griffins fans was that he would claim a spot in the AHL this season and really start to show why Yzerman and his scouting team made him such a high pick.
Though the scoresheet shows a more dominant effort by the Griffins, the team was still heavily outshot in their second bout against the Eagles, and Cossa had to make several key saves, especially on the penalty kill. He did not allow a goal until more than halfway through the third period, but by that time, the Griffins had a stranglehold on the game. The weight of such heavy expectations could have made him buckle, but he instead exited Saturday’s game with a slightly higher save-percentage than his veteran counterpart.
You generally want to refrain from drawing meaningful conclusions about a team or specific players after just two games. Though the Red Wings are carrying three goalies on their roster right now, the possibility that one of those guys gets sent down remains, and that will impact what the Griffins’ goalie situation looks like. Furthermore, Cossa fared well in his first start with the Griffins last season (a 3-2 win where he stopped 21 of 23 shots) but then looked out of his depth in his next two appearances. He had a strong debut this season, but nobody will care about that if he follows it up with a subpar performance.
Regardless of what may happen, through the first two games that have happened this season, goaltending has been a source of strength for the Griffins.
Edvinsson Maintains His Swagger
There are some folks out there that believe that Simon Edvinsson, the Red Wings’ top pick in the 2021 draft, should have started this season in Detroit rather than Grand Rapids. The 6-foot-6 Swedish defenseman played nine games with the Red Wings late last season after he fared well while receiving a heavy and steady workload in the AHL. Throughout training camp and the preseason, he always seemed to be looking to make an impact while staying true to the characteristics that made him the sixth player taken in his draft class.
Despite his strong showing in the preseason, Edvinsson was again assigned to the Griffins with the expectation that he will continue to play big minutes as the top defenseman in Grand Rapids. Through the first two games of the Griffins’ season, he has done just that.
Edvinsson collected two points over the two games against the Eagles, including what was ultimately the game-winning goal on Saturday night. He was consistently one of the Griffins’ most noticeable players, regardless of position, throughout the weekend’s festivities. He carried the puck with authority and wasn’t afraid to engage in the offensive zone like an extra forward, sometimes finding himself deep in the zone behind the goal line. He flashed serious skill and awareness while trying to facilitate offense from the backend. He even took a page out of teammate Elmer Söderblom’s book and tried to score on a between-the-legs shot while in close on the goaltender.
Regardless of where you think Edvinsson should be playing his home games right now, it is clear that his sky-high potential remains intact, and the Griffins and their fans should enjoy watching him do his thing while he is still on the AHL roster.
- With Brian Lashoff retiring and becoming an assistant coach on Watson’s staff, the Griffins do not have a designated captain for the first time in over a decade. It seems like the team might use a rotating staff of AHL veterans that will wear A’s on their sweaters as alternate captains throughout the season, including Hirose, Tyler Spezia, Austin Czarnik and Dominik Shine. With the Griffins’ roster featuring so much youth and plenty of new faces, it will be interesting to see if a leadership vacuum opens up over the course of the season.
- Not to be overlooked, Albert Johansson is another defensive prospect worth keeping an eye on this season. After Griffins GM Shawn Horcoff revealed that the 2019 second round pick was close to receiving an NHL call-up last season before going down with a season-ending injury, a strong start was to be expected from the 22-year-old. Through the first two games of the season, Johansson recorded a single point and was a plus-2 while showing a willingness to do whatever it takes to make a play, even if it means taking a hit here and there. One thing is for sure: he’s going to have a solid pro career regardless of what level he’s at.
- In case you are wondering what the Griffins’ opening lineup looked like, here you go:
And in the second game…..
Perhaps one of the most surprising things about the Griffins’ lineup early on is Amadeus Lombardi slotting in ahead of Marco Kasper. Both players were drafted by the Red Wings in the 2022 draft, but Lombardi was a fourth round selection while Kasper was the team’s top pick at eighth overall. Again, it is too early to draw meaningful conclusions, but it sure seems like Watson is bullish on Lombardi’s offensive potential. For what it’s worth, Kasper and winger Cross Hanas seem to have developed a bond since Kasper made his way to North America, and the pair could form a deadly duo that can score goals and agitate the heck out of the opposition.
That’s all for this week’s Griffins notebook. Stay tuned for future editions as we monitor the Red Wings’ AHL team throughout the season!