It brings me great pleasure to inform you once again: Red Wings hockey is back.
Sure, it’s still the preseason. The roster we witnessed yesterday is not the Opening Night roster. In fact, the majority of the players won’t be in the NHL by Opening Night. Preseason expectations aside, there’s nothing quite like hockey after a long hiatus. This must be how bears feel after waking up from hibernation. The dawn has risen again, and with it comes the great gift of hockey.
What better way to start off the preseason than with a 4-3 win over the Chicago Blackhawks? The sound of the “Detroit sucks” chants deflating into whimpers sent a current of joy and schadenfreude through every Detroit fan watching the game. The game had a lot going for it — surprising goals, defensive lapses, and an absolute clinic by Calvin Pickard were among the highlights of the game. But what stood out the most? What takeaways can fans get from this first game?
I did a bit of homework during the game and came up with these conclusions:
1. Bobby Ryan is making a case for himself
Between his quotes about Detroit and the performance he put on last night, it’s hard to imagine the Red Wings won’t consider signing Ryan again. After a season-ending injury last season, the long-term veteran signed a paid tryout with the Red Wings. Since then, he’s made it his goal to earn a deal with Detroit again. In an interview at the end of Training Camp, Ryan had this to say:
“No place has this comfortable for me throughout my career.”
That attitude, combined with his game-tying and game-winning goal last night should more than warrant some consideration. Ryan ended last night’s game with a goal, an assist, and a shootout winner. He was involved in almost all of the team’s offensive success. If the Red Wings don’t sign him, another team will.
2. Plenty of learning experiences
Life comes at you fast. Alex Cotton got his first taste of NHL hockey, involved on the receiving end of two of the Blackhawks’ better goals. Eventually, the WHL product will return to his home club, the Lethbridge Hurricanes, likely with a few important lessons to keep in mind. Last night’s game was the highest level of hockey he’s ever played, and, despite his lapses, he managed to hold his own.
KUBALIK GOAL— Chicago Blackhawks (@NHLBlackhawks) September 30, 2021
We are tied at 1! pic.twitter.com/vNV43HiVHK
The video above shows one such example of defensive lapses from both Cotton and his linemate, Donovan Sebrango. Fortunately, Cotton took it in stride, picking his game up in the third period. He was heavily involved in the offensive efforts, ending the game with five shots on goal. In a piece from The Athletic, Lethbridge Hurricanes general manager Peter Anholt said that Cotton will need to work on his defensive game to earn the trust of his coaches. Yesterday’s game should help him to understand the pace he needs to play at in order to make it in the NHL.
3. Adam Erne continues to prove me wrong
During the offseason, I wrote a tweet about what player I thought was most likely to regress. Erne favorited the tweet and then proceeded to play some of the best hockey I’ve ever seen from him. He out-muscled a defender to set up Michael Rasmussen for a goal, went top-shelf on the shootout, and continued to show his presence on every end of the ice. When you have a guy like Erne shutting down players like Jonathan Toews and Kirby Dach, it starts to become clear that there’s more than meets the eye.
If Erne keeps this up and continues to prove me wrong, I’ll have no choice but to buy one of his jerseys. Adam, if you’re reading this, for all of our sakes, make that tweet of mine age like milk.
4. Dominant penalty kill
This could certainly be a chicken vs. egg scenario. Was the penalty kill dominant, or was the Blackhawks’ power-play actually that bad? At first, it was hard to say — but after receiving a whopping five chances to score a goal, it was clear it was a bit of both. Jordan Oesterle and Filip Hronek in particular shined during the penalty kill, frequently chipping the puck away and breaking up offensive formations. Vladislav Namestnikov used a bit of physicality to fight for the puck.
NHL officiating is in the process of cracking down on cross-checking. So far, it’s led to a few head-scratching calls. The call on Ryan, in particular, sparked confusion throughout the fanbase. It’s likely that this new officiating standard will be a learning process through the first few weeks. Here’s to hoping it doesn’t interfere with the Red Wings’ 100% penalty kill rate.
4. Pickard puts on a clinic
After a so-so start from Thomas Greiss, Calvin Pickard took the reins, playing in the second and third period and stopping a whopping 24 shots on net. He was directly responsible for the highway robbery of two of the cleanest setups all night by the Blackhawks. Where Greiss ended with 12 saves on 15 shots, Pickard rounded out the night with a shutout and a shootout. The video below is just a microcosm of the performance he put on last night:
If one of Greiss or Nedeljkovic falters this season, Pickard will be waiting in the wings to steal their spot. For now, though, Pickard will start the year off in Grand Rapids. Still, if this performance is any indication of his skill level, this won’t be the last time we see Pickard in the Winged Wheel.