The Oilers are off to the sunny skies of Detroit. They’ll face a Red Wings club that just got finished taking care of the Vegas Golden Knights by a 5-2 margin. They’ve got plenty of talent that can put the puck in the net, are the Red Wings going places in the standings? I’ve enlisted J.J. From Kansas from our Red Wings sibling site over at Winging It In Motown to help fill in the blanks.
How are the Red Wings holding up? Let’s find out.
Copper and Blue: Detroit’s been a tough team to get a read on. They struggled against Montréal on Tuesday, they got beat soundly by the Bruins, but they took care of the Sabres and are hanging tough with the Golden Knights. They’re right in the middle of the Atlantic Division right now. Is this what you thought Detroit would be a dozen games into the season?
Winging It In Motown: Getting plastered in two games by Montreal is just karma for when the Wings ran the table against them two seasons ago, but missing Dylan Larkin for the last week really changed a lot about the Wings during this last stretch. Overall, we really wanted to see a Detroit team that was more fun to watch than previous teams although Wings fans are generally prepared for them to struggle. I don’t think we necessarily thought we’d get to here the exact way we did, but the start isn’t really surprising.
Copper and Blue: The first thing I notice about the Red Wings: they’re allowing a bunch of goals. They’re in the bottom five in goals allowed with 3.5 per game prior to Sunday’s game against the Golden Knights. What’s the number one reason the Wings are having trouble tightening it up?
WIIM: Detroit’s penalty killing has been brutal. Going into Sunday night’s NHL action, the Wings had allowed 13 power play goals against, tied for second-most with Arizona and only trailing Montreal’s 16. Outside of that, they’ve kind of had bursts of nightmare nights. Seven goals allowed to Tampa in their opener and then six to Montreal nine days later bumped their numbers up. It’s never really quite the same thing but overall they’ve stepped away from their shell game habits of old and are trying more to run with teams. Unfortunately they’re not good enough to win races on most nights, but I’m ok with them at least hanging in them.
Copper and Blue: Steve Yzerman sent a third round pick to the Carolina Hurricanes for a goaltender who was a Calder Cup finalist in 2021 when he picked up Alex Nedeljkovic. Nedeljkovic signed a two year deal once he was acquired, I thought that deal and the contract were both quite good for the Red Wings. He’s splitting time with Tomas Greiss right now, is he the future full time number one?
WIIM: The Wings using a first rounder on Sebastian Cossa at this last draft kind of laid plain that Yzerman was willing to take a few years’ worth of flyer on Nedeljkovic on the chance that by the time the team is ready to compete again they’d have that good kind of goalie problem that other teams will pay big premiums to help you fix. He hasn’t found his consistency yet, but we’re in a place where if he steals the team enough games to get them into the playoffs then it’s good for the development of the youth and if he doesn’t do that then it’s good for the draft position of the youth-yet-to-come.
Copper and Blue: I’m just gonna come out and ask: how good is Moritz Seider? He scored an OT game winner in Buffalo, and he was named the Rookie of the Year for October. He’s got ten points in twelve games so far. It looks like he’s just stepped into his role.
WIIM: I’m trying extremely hard not to make unfair comparisons for a kid less than a quarter of the way into his first NHL season but every game I watch him he makes plays that you don’t expect from a rookie. The way he positions himself to protect the puck, how patient he is under pressure, how grown men just bounce off him. I think he’s got what it takes and every time he makes a rookie mistake it’s just a good reminder that he’s making himself even better.
Copper and Blue: Speaking of rookies, 2020 first round selection Lucas Raymond is on the top line with Dylan Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi. Raymond scored a power play goal against the Golden Knights, and he’s among the leaders in points on the club. Is he benefitting from his time on the top line, or is the top line benefitting from Raymond’s presence?
WIIM: For a kid who likely wouldn’t have made the team out of camp if Jakub Vrana had been healthy it’s hard to picture what his path would have looked like had he started in Grand Rapids. Raymond has fit in so naturally to the Wings’ top line. If I have to say one or the other, I think he’s benefiting more from his time on the line because it’s not forcing him into that unfair slot where a skill kid has to grind his own space out. Raymond has a willingness to take the puck into the zone far enough away from the boards to make pinching him off at the half-wall a gamble and the passing skill to find guys in the spaces that a move like this makes. Having teammates skilled enough to be in those areas and receive those passes has been a big help to him.
Copper and Blue: Finally, what will it take for the Detroit Red Wings to make the playoffs in 2021-22?
WIIM: The Wings aren’t sitting behind a list of “Ifs” that it would take a miracle to happen for them to find their way into the postseason, but they’d still have to get pretty lucky. They’re better than they have been, but consistency and depth will likely keep them out of the playoffs for this year. They need a goaltender to take over the starting spot and they need to not have to regularly rely on guys like Pius Suter to play their 1C slot. The other big concern looming is that the rookie phenoms Raymond and Seider have never played an 82-game NHL schedule. That kind of physical wear-and-tear is doable, but there’s a mental adjustment that you never know if they can handle until you put them in that spot.
The Oilers visit Detroit to take on the Red Wings on Tuesday at 5:30 PM local time.