Red Wings goalie Alex Nedeljkovic staking claim for more playing time
Detroit — There were some spectacular saves made by Detroit Red Wings goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic in Wednesday's third period, which turned out to be a 4-2 victory over the St. Louis Blues.
But the way Nedeljkovic explained it afterward, it was almost through a sense of desperation.
“I was kind of caught out of position," Nedeljkovic said of a few of the saves. "So for me really, it was nice to save my own butt,”
Whatever the reason, Nedeljkovic still made the saves, 35 of them in all and 14 in the third period, keying the Wings' victory.
The win ended a four-game winless streak, against a Stanley Cup contender, and may have given Nedeljkovic a slight edge in the goaltending tandem the Wings employ with Thomas Greiss.
Coach Jeff Blashill has alternated starts between Nedeljkovic and Greiss all season, but Wednesday gave Nedeljkovic a second consecutive start. The decision was rewarded, with Nedeljkovic starring in the victory.
“Especially in the third (period), he was unbelievable, made huge, huge saves,” Blashill said. “We gave up way too many chances in the third. We have to get better. But you like to get better when you’re winning, and the goalie gives you a chance to do that.
"He was great."
One of the traits teammates, and Blashill, have talked about with Nedeljkovic is his competitiveness in net — and that was apparent throughout key moments against the Blues.
“He’s got that athleticism for sure and he’s a competitive person," Blashill said. "He certainly had the feeling that he wasn’t giving another one up.”
Since an opening-night 7-6 overtime loss against Tampa Bay — a game Nedeljkovic, though allowing seven goals, was still one of the Wings' better players that evening — Nedeljkovic has gradually progressed to a level close to last season's Calder Trophy finalist-level season he had in Carolina.
Nedeljkovic is now 5-3-3 with a 2.76 goals-against average, and .917 save percentage.
“As the year’s gone on, as a group, we’ve gotten better and better,” Nedeljkovic said. “We can be a little more consistent in some areas. The chemistry is there, and everybody’s comfortable with each other, we are jelling pretty good.
"Some nights we’re having a little too many miscues and we’re not really as consistent as we’d like to be. Coming into December, we have to kind of tighten up there and really start to bunker down.”
As for the dramatic third-period saves, Nedeljkovic felt there was a factor involved for his teammates as much as the saves were important for him.
"For the guys, it's just knowing I have their backs," Nedeljkovic said. "A few of them I was caught out of position. So just giving them confidence they can play their game and swagger, and if something slips up, I can come up with the save."
The Wings appeared more rested and energized Wednesday, much more so than toward the end of the four-game road trip last week in Vegas and Arizona.
Having two complete days off the ice, then having a spirited practice Tuesday, looked to give the Wings new life.
"We definitely had more energy at points," Blashill said. "Listen, it was a hard grind. We played a lot of hockey in a short amount of time. So it was great to get those days and get home and settled."
One player in particular who appeared reinvigorated was rookie forward Lucas Raymond.
Dragging toward the end of the trip, Raymond, 19, had a goal against the Blues, giving Raymond 20 points (eight goals, 12 assists) in 21 games.
Raymond joined current general manager Steve Yzerman (17 games) as just the second Red Wings teenager to collect his first 20 career points in 21 games or fewer.
Raymond leads all NHL rookies in scoring.
“Of course, it’s a lot of games (this season), but it’s fun as well,” Raymond said. “Everyone wants to play games. But of course, it’s an intense schedule and especially we have had a lot of games compared to other teams, but we just got to accept it and make the best of the situation.
“You have to get the right sleep, eat good, stay focused, and not let up on your details."
The grueling, demanding NHL schedule is a learning process, said Blashill, especially for young players.
“We certainly have some veteran players, but we have a lot of young players playing key roles, guys that haven’t been through the NHL schedule," Blashill said. "To me, the most unique thing about the NHL, probably more than anything else, is the schedule. In the American League you still play lots of games, but it’s not anywhere near the every-other-day you face in the NHL, especially the stretch we’ve been in.
"Our whole team kind of petered out a little bit as (the trip) went along. Certainly, our young players would have been in that mix. One of the most important things you have to do in the NHL is learning how to play when you’re tired and you don’t have your legs and how to play smart. That helps some of our young players, certainly (Mortiz) Seider and Raymond are both smart players, so they can help manage it."