After rough start, goaltending emerging as strength for Red Wings
Detroit — There was a belief the Red Wings’ goaltending would be a consistent area of strength before the season began.
And, after some minor blips and downturns — and an injury — that level of consistency has arrived.
It’s getting to the point where the Red Wings are likely expecting Jonathan Bernier and Thomas Greiss to come through with an elite game.
Which isn’t easy — but they keep doing it.
It was Bernier’s turn Saturday, stopping a whopping 50 shots in a 2-1 overtime loss to Dallas.
“He was excellent,” coach Jeff Blashill said.
Saturday’s 50-save game was the first for a Wings’ goalie since Jimmy Howard did it on Jan. 7, 2010 in Los Angeles.
Bernier became the seventh Wings goaltender to reach 50 saves in a game, joining a pretty impressive list: Howard, Terry Sawchuk, Glenn Hall, Roger Crozier, Jimmy Rutherford and Roy Edwards.
Bernier could feel as the night went on, that was seeing pucks well and extremely sharp.
“I know I’m on my game when I’m at the top of the crease and I see pucks from the point,” Bernier said. “They have some really good defensemen who get the puck through. They were shooting from everywhere tonight, for sure.”
Bernier appreciated the praise and comments from teammates after the game, but it didn’t take away the bad taste.
“They were happy for me, but for me, it’s finding a way to get a win, and I wasn’t able to,” Bernier said.
An unrestricted free agent this summer, Bernier was believed to be one of general manager Steve Yzerman’s best bargaining chips at the trade deadline.
But the Wings decided to keep Bernier — who returned to health just before the deadline after missing several weeks with a lower body injury — and it’s likely the organization will sign him to a new contract at some point.
With a 9-9-1 record, 3.02 goals-against average and .912 save percentage, Bernier has for the second consecutive season been among the best Wings in the lineup.
After a slow start, Greiss (6-15-7, 2.95 GAA, .904 SVS), hasn’t lost in regulation time in his last six decisions (4-0-2).
Greiss stopped 43 Dallas shots Thursday, as the Wings earned their only win during the four-game series, 7-3.
“He’s done a good job in the last stretch for sure,” Blashill said. “(Thursday) was as clean a game as he’s had. That first period, we played fairly good, it was fairly even, and we gave up two real chances and he made big saves. Now, you walk out of the period up 3-0 (which the Wings did) and it could have been 2-1 them.
“That’s just the difference a goaltender can make.”
Could defensemen Dennis Cholowski be making a statement he’s ready for a full-time NHL job?
In his 10th game this season Saturday, Cholowski arguably had one of his best, scoring the Wings’ lone goal and being a presence with the puck.
“The last two games were his best two,” Blashill said. “He really had command of the puck. He was probably our best breakout guy, and was probably our best neutral zone transition guy.
“He did a real good job.”
With forwards Dylan Larkin, Tyler Bertuzzi, Robby Fabbri, Frans Nielsen and Bobby Ryan all out of the lineup, the Wings are going through a difficult stretch as the season winds down.
But Blashill isn’t making excuses, and views it as an chance for younger players to establish themselves.
“It’s been a hard run lately,” Blashill said. “It happens some years. Unfortunately for two years in a row we’ve been hit. The significance of the injuries and where those players fit within your team definitely have a big impact.
“A year ago we missed (Danny) DeKeyser basically for the whole season and that was a huge loss. This year we missed Bert (Bertuzzi) for a lot of the year. Then you start getting into guys like Fabbs (Fabbri) and Larks and Bobby Ryan and Nielsen and it becomes a lot.
“But it also gives a chance for the group that’s getting an opportunity to play to show what they’re all about. One thing that’s allowed our team to have success this year is when we’ve been that elite group of work ethic and competitiveness. It’s a calling card for our team and guys have bought into it.”