At this point in the schedule, the final result of the Red Wings’ game doesn’t matter much to most fans.
Tuesday’s 4-3 overtime loss in Colorado was disappointing — a gut-punch, actually, the way it occurred. But, ultimately, it was another loss.
But the development of certain players is what intrigues Wings’ fans, specifically Filip Zadina.
In a season that can’t end soon enough for most fans, Zadina’s development is a huge bright spot.
Zadina scored to give the Wings a 3-2 lead late in the third period.
It was Zadina’s first NHL goal, in his fourth NHL game. And, judging by social media reaction, it was one of the best moments of this long season.
But for Zadina, as great as the moment was, seeing the game turn into the loss in the waning minutes lessened the joy of the moment.
“Obviously it was a great moment, but I would be happier if we win the game,” Zadina told reporters after the game. “We were so close. But it wasn’t enough. I’m kind of disappointed we had the game in our hands, but we didn’t do it.
“But it was a great moment.”
Zadina, 19, has seen his ice time increase steadily in these four games.
He’s gone from 10 minutes 38 seconds to 14:09 to 15:30 to 18:16 Tuesday in Denver, adding a career-high five shots against the Avalanche, tying for his career-high 21 shifts, and a plus-1, the first game he’s been plus in the plus-minus category.
“I’m getting way more ice time than the first two games,” Zadina said. “I’m feeling good. I’m going to keep going. I hope we win some games; it would be a lot sweeter.”
Coach Jeff Blashill told reporters after Tuesday’s loss that Zadina earned the increase in ice time with the way he was playing.
“What I like is he’s looked more and more dangerous every game,” Blashill said. “Certainly (Tuesday) was his best game. He looked the most dangerous he’s looked.
“The goal, he’s real dynamic on the power play.”
During the course of the four games, Zadina has looked increasingly confident on the ice, and has begun to create and make plays for himself and his linemates.
One play that was eye-opening occurred in the second period. Zadina split through the Avalanche, and snapped a shot that surprised Colorado goalie Semyon Varlamov with its speed.
“Five-on-five he’s starting to create more,” Blashill said. “His shot in the second, where he cut to the middle and, honestly, he got a heck of a shot off. Varlamov made a good blocker save.
“It was a good sign. He played 18-plus minutes. It’s a good sign for our organization.”
Zadina has, at most, another five games left with the Wings before he returns to Grand Rapids for the remainder of the regular season and American League playoffs.
If Zadina were to play more than nine games it would burn a year of his contract — and the Red Wings are not going to do that.
This brief look-see was an opportunity for Zadina to experience the difficulty of the NHL, what he needs to do over the summer to improve, and gain some confidence that he can compete at this level.
So far, it looks like the promotion has worked out as well as could have been expected.
“It was nice to see the excitement,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said of Zadina’s celebration after his first goal. “We all felt happy for him. He was good all over the ice. You saw him a lot more (Tuesday) than maybe in the past.”
Zadina gave the Wings a 3-2 lead, but Colorado scored on the next shift, with defenseman Tyson Barrie scoring after the Avalance pulled Semyon for an extra skater.
Then in overtime, after Andreas Athanasiou missed on a good chance bearing down on Varlamov, the Avalanche came down on a 3-on-2 rush and Nathan MacKinnon scored his 34th goal to win the game.
“I still think as a team we can be better,” Kronwall said. “We almost got away with one. Bernie (goaltender Jonathan Bernier) played great in net. Unfortunately we couldn’t hang in there.”
Rangers at Red Wings
Faceoff: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit.
TV/radio: Fox Sports Detroit/97.1 FM
Outlook: The Rangers (27-28-11) have been on the cusp of wild-card contention for most of the season, but have slipped out of the picture in recent weeks. … C Mika Zibanejad (27 goals, 63 points) and G Henrik Lundqvist (17-17-9, .907 SVS) are veteran leaders on a rebuilding team.