The Red Wings returned to action tonight following their successful west coast road trip last week. Detroit finds themselves in the thick of the wildcard race. One of the teams they’re chasing amongst the pack fighting for the last playoff spot was their opponent tonight, the Washington Capitals.
This was widely considered Detroit’s most critical game to date this season. It’s been a hot minute since Detroit found themselves in a game this important. While there’s still 25 games to play, this game could be a massive indicator of if they’re ready to take their next step forward.
Jakub Vrana once again donned the Winged Wheel tonight after what has been a lengthy journey back to Detroit. His recent play in Grand Rapids earned him a return to the NHL. He subbed in for Filip Zadina tonight. Husso once again got the start in goal for Detroit in this critical matchup.
For Washington, they remained without icon Alex Ovechkin who is mourning the passing of his father. In goal for Washington was Darcy Kuemper.
David Perron was slotted alongside Dylan Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi on the top line to start this game. Lalonde elected to have Vrana play alongside Veleno and Fabbri to create a third line that certainly has potential to be dangerous. The second line remained to be Copp with Rasmussen and Berggren. While the fourth line was made up of Suter between Sundqvist and Kubalik.
Early on the Copp line got hemmed in alongside the Chiarot and Hronek pairing. While the Caps cycled the puck around, they fired a few passes and attempts at redirects through the slot but weren’t able to steer any towards the goal, and Detroit eventually cleared the zone and got a change.
T.J. Oshie nearly got in alone when Mantha made a pass to him on a 2 on 1, but fortunately for Detroit he had trouble corralling the pass that was a bit off line and was below the goal line by the time he got a handle on it.
Walman created a chance for Detroit when he faked a slapshot to get the nearby Caps forward to slide across in an attempt to block the shot. As the lane cleared, traffic was gathering at the net and Walman put a shot on net, and Detroit couldn’t get a stick on the rebound. Berggren then created a chance for himself when he deked a defender, former Wing McIlrath, to get in by himself on Kumper but couldn’t quite beat him with a shot to the far side. Prior to those two chances for Detroit it was the Capitals largely controlling the play.
Vrana got a rude welcome back to the NHL when former teammate Orlov laid him out just inside the offensive blue line as Vrana attempted to make a move through the Washington defense.
Shortly later as Detroit started to build momentum, Maatta made a well timed pinch and got a puck to Bertuzzi who took control low in the offensive zone and hit Hagg with a pass at the top of the zone. Hagg sent a wrister towards the goal with Perron fighting for position out front. The puck found its way through Kuemper who was sliding out of position, 1-0 Red Wings.
Robert Hagg gets the boys going. #LGRW pic.twitter.com/WqTilz1wgl— Detroit Red Wings (@DetroitRedWings) February 22, 2023
At first glance it looked like Washington may challenge the goal because Kuemper had clearly been pushed out of position. But looking at the replay, while Perron was positioned in front of the goaltender, he was outside the blue ice, and it was in fact the Caps defender that pushed the goaltender. So Washington elected to not challenge the play, giving the Wings the early lead.
Moments later Detroit nearly struck again when Berggren sent a pass through the slot to Rasmussen crashing the net. Rasmussen redirected it on goal but Kuemper was able to get across and make the save.
Noteworthy at this point was that Veleno and Fabbri skated a shift with Kubalik rather than Vrana creating concern that he might’ve been suffering the effects of the hit by Orlov on his last shift.
Washington got the the game’s first powerplay when Larkin took a penalty when he accidentally got his stick up into Oshie’s face when trying to fight him off for a puck. The referee’s decided upon review it was a 5:00 and a game misconduct penalty. Although the penalty was clear, it seemed excessive for an accidental play. Regardless the Wings would be in tough for the rest of the night without their captain, leading scorer, and a 5:00 penalty to kill.
Dylan Larkin is assessed a 5 minute major + game misconduct for cross-checking T.J. Oshie. Dylan's game is over. #LGRW pic.twitter.com/Q7cPOsDeXd— Ryan Hana (@RyanHanaWWP) February 22, 2023
Early on the penalty kill, Seider cleared a puck off the goal line, stopping the Caps from striking early on the powerplay. Immediately after, Copp was sprung for a partial breakaway. His shot had Kuemper sliding back into his own goal and everything crossed the line except the puck. Washington then set up again and whistled a few shots just wide. But one of those shots rimmed around the boards and sent Suter off on a 2 on 1 with Sundqvist as the Caps powerplay clearly looked gassed on the backcheck. The defender shaded towards Sundqvist, forcing Suter to shoot. But Suter was able to beat Kuemper high to the far side over the goaltender’s glove, netting the shorthanded marker for Detroit, 2-0 Red Wings.
Sutesy shorty. #LGRW pic.twitter.com/eD77Ushw8x— Detroit Red Wings (@DetroitRedWings) February 22, 2023
The goal was scored with 3:30 remaining in the Washington powerplay. Chiarot nearly made it a 5 on 3 when he sent a puck over the glass, but the linesman indicated it glanced off a Washington player. But Detroit was playing with fire as the Caps cycled the puck around. A point shot appeared to hit Copp on its way to the net, and was then tipped by Wilson and past Husso, 2-1.
4⃣3⃣ likes to score in these jerseys! pic.twitter.com/NpzGX4H26v— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) February 22, 2023
Detroit did a good job the rest of the penalty kill keeping the Washington powerplay to the perimeter and blocking several shot attempts. Albeit with some tense moments Detroit escaped the 5:00 penalty kill giving up just one goal and scoring one of their own. it marked a big swing for Detroit, but the challenge remained they would have to overcome the final two periods without their captain. Fabbri looked like the early candidate to replace him on the top line.
Good news towards the end of the period was that Vrana returned to the ice shortly after the penalty kill, which would be critical with Larkin out for the remainder of the game already. After a slow start to the period, Detroit came on and created the first goal, and then overcame some big-time adversity with the Larkin major. They led 8-5 in shots at the break.
Standing ovation and an emotional moment for Jakub Vrana in his homecoming and first NHL game since time in the NHL/NHLPA Player Assistance Program. pic.twitter.com/8a92drP3xh— Sammi Silber (@sammisilber) February 22, 2023
Suter opened the period between Perron and Bertuzzi, seemingly indicating Larkin would be replaced by committee on the top line. Unfortunately just 1:28 into the period Detroit once again found themselves on the penalty kill when Berggren was called for a trip on Oshie in the neutral zone. While the Washington powerplay continued to do a good job maintaining possession in the offensive zone, they were clearly out of sorts without their triggerman as they failed to get any shots through until after the powerplay expired. They maintained pressure though and did beat Husso with a one timer setup across the slot, but the shot rang off the post and stayed out. Husso finally brought the pressure to a stop when he stopped an Eller shot from below the circle and froze the puck.
Following the penalty kill, Detroit was seeking to just keep the game at five on five for some extended time as they’d largely been on the penalty kill since Larkin exited. The trio of Sundqvist, Suter, and Kubalik were responsible for getting the ice tilted in the Wings favor again when they worked almost an entire shift in the offensive zone. They were able to exhaust the Caps defenders and get Veleno, Perron, and Berggren on the ice. Veleno had two back to back good chances when Perron picked off a Washington pass and created a chance for Veleno from the high slot, but Kuemper made the save. Moments later, Berggren retrieved a puck on the half wall and chipped it towards Veleno who was alone crashing the net. But Kuemper was again able to make the save on Veleno’s redirect attempt.
Jonatan is just so good #LGRW pic.twitter.com/oY1xT9XyTx— Red Wings Rant (@Red_Wings_Rant) February 22, 2023
The line juggling continued with Vrana, Bertuzzi, and Suter taking a shift together midway through the period. It was announced that the Capitals were also down a man at this point, with Mantha having exited at some point with an upper body injury. It was unclear when that occurred as there was no obvious collision.
Maatta setup Walman for a one timed howitzer at the top of the zone, but Kuemper made a great kick save on a shot going back against the grain from the direction he was sliding across. Walman made another great play a shift later when he drew the Red Wings first powerplay of the game, making a diving play at the offensive blue line to break up a Washington outlet pass. As he got up and took a couple strides he was taken down by a pair of Caps players. Tom Wilson took exception to the call against him and tried to draw Walman into a fight but he wasn’t taking the bait from the neanderthal on skates.
Vrana pressures the puck causing this LOOONG cross-ice pass, which Walman eats right up, makes a move, and draws a penalty.— Red Wings Rant (@Red_Wings_Rant) February 22, 2023
Good to see it start with the pressure from Vrana. A guy I think we all agree that defense takes a deep back seat to his shooting abilities.#LGRW pic.twitter.com/7fCziRhjQl
Detroit’s powerplay looked out of sorts without Larkin as their passes weren’t crisp despite maintaining control in the offensive zone. The best chance on the man advantage belonged to Washington as the penalty was concluding. They had a 3 on 2 rush that led to a loose puck in front of Husso that Detroit was able to clear away after Kubalik made a nice defensive play to break up a pass. Both teams powerplays looked dull through the first three chances.
Detroit would get another chance at it though as Strome was called for a high-stick on Hagg. Strome was adamant it was a follow-through but upon reviewing the replay, while he initially followed through, he then steered his stick towards Hagg who was coming in to throw a check on him.
On their second powerplay, Detroit again looked mediocre until the closing seconds when Perron got a pair of chances. First on a terrific no-look backhand pass from Vrana across the slot, and then he received another pass at the left circle that he double clutched on and unfortunately had it blocked by the time he got the shot off. With 0:10 to go in the period, Walman nearly extended the lead when he took a pass at the top of the zone as he came in with speed. He wired a slapshot from the left hashmark that hit the far post.
Nearly a 3-1 lead thanks to another great play by Berggren and Walman finding his sweet spot. We just needed that shot moved a couple inches inside.#LGRW pic.twitter.com/tXoz5PjvoS— Red Wings Rant (@Red_Wings_Rant) February 22, 2023
Detroit maintained their 2-1 lead into the second intermission and extended their shot lead to 21-12 at the break. They took over late in the period and just couldn’t quite cash in.
There was a shift early in the 3rd period that should be highlighted for Vrana. After receiving a pass at the right circle, he initially fanned on the shot. But he regathered it and put a shot on net that Kuemper seemed to steer away with ease. The puck went back to Vrana at the half wall. He chipped a pass back to Seider at the point, but Seider lost his footing. It created a sudden 2 on 1 for Washington. Vrana hustled like hell to get back on the puck carrier and broke up the play before Washington could get a shot. What it highlights is that Vrana has taken the critiques of his game to heart and is working hard on his two-way play.
Washington had all of the early pressure in a choppy start to the 3rd period, they were outshooting Detroit 7-1 through the first 5:00 of play and created several chances from in tight. Husso had to make several big stops including one with his mask. Washington was kicking it into another gear and Detroit needed to show they could match. While their efforts to block shots are applauded, they needed to apply some pressure of their own. Which is what they did. With 13:36 to play, Suter jumped on a turnover in the slot when Jensen’s pass to Kuznetsov hopped over his stick, Suter quickly fired the shot on net and beat Kuemper back to the far side with his shot, 3-1 Red Wings.
Pius with ANOTHER big goal. #LGRW pic.twitter.com/mrZ0abotYu— Detroit Red Wings (@DetroitRedWings) February 22, 2023
Just after the goal, it looked like Bertuzzi had drawn a penalty when Hathaway cross-checked him across the chest with some heavy intent. But it turned into offsetting minors as Bertuzzi was called for slashing, which occurred prior to the cross-check, hence the reaction from Hathaway. The result was 2:00 of 4 on 4 play. Suter attempted to get the hat trick when he stole a puck at the offensive blue line and then fired a slap shot from the top of the cleft circle, but Kuemper made light work with the save. That was the only real chance of the 4 on 4 play.
Washington nearly got within one on a shot towards Husso that was redirected and caused him to flop sideways and kick the puck from behind him and into the corner to keep it out of the net. Husso was being called upon often in the 3rd period to keep the Wings ahead.
The Wings escaped unscathed after a few consecutive icing plays just past the midway point of the period. While that can often end up with dangerous chances against, Detroit was able to fend off Washington despite having a few bodies stuck on the ice. The ice very much seemed in rough shape throughout this game, but particularly in the 3rd period. The puck was bouncing all over the place for both teams.
While Detroit was doing a good job of quickly clearing Washington dump-ins late in the game, they gave up a 2 on 1 with just under 3:00 to play when Maatta fired a shot wide that rung around the boards with Detroit caught deep. Seider tried to swat the saucer pass away but it got to Backstrom who one timed it, but Husso made a great glove save to keep the Wings ahead by two.
️ HUUUUUUUUUSSS! pic.twitter.com/OlnBkD6HNB— Detroit Red Wings (@DetroitRedWings) February 22, 2023
Following the save, Washington pulled their goaltender at the next faceoff with 2:51 to play. Washington nearly scored on a scramble after Fabbri was hobbled on a blocked shot. Suter picked up the loose puck in the slot and sent it the length of the ice to try and finish off the hat-trick but just missed. After the resulting icing, Copp had another chance to close the game out when Suter hit him with a pass at the offensive blue line, but he hesitated and had his shot blocked away with 1:30 to play. But they were at least able to fend off Washington from any scoring chances after that and closed out the game. Detroit wins 3-1!
That was a statement victory from Detroit. Following a slow start, they built momentum, remained composed after Larkin’s ejection, controlled the game through 40 minutes, and then weathered the storm in the 3rd period. While the 3rd period wasn’t a clinic in maintaining a lead, they did generally keep Washington’s chance to a minimum despite the pile of shots for the Caps in the final frame.
Pius Suter was an obvious standout, scoring two and filling in well as the lineup was juggled all night. He ended up playing 17:04 of very effective minutes. Another effective player was Berggren who continues to create chances for his teammates with his playmaking, despite playing only 11:15. The Seider and Walman pairing was exceptional as they typically have been since being joined together. Bertuzzi continues to become more noticeable each night looking more like his old self. On the flip side, the Wings could really benefit from Copp becoming more productive. While his two way play and penalty kill work is useful, he needs to put up points.
Husso continued to be in peak form as he has been since the all-star break. While the Red Wings limited shots on him early on, the Capitals did have significant pressure at times, and he had to fend off several good attempts in the 3rd period to maintain Detroit’s lead.
Jacub Vrana gets his own shout out for his return to the Red Wings after what has been a very tumultuous few months. He got 11:31 of ice time, largely in the first two periods. While he didn’t rip any big time shots as he’s known to do, he made some effective plays, and it’s just good to see him back. Hoping there’s more good for him to come.
With Raymond’s return imminent, the Red Wings could have good problems having to make difficult choices moving forward. That is assuming Larkin doesn’t receive any supplemental discipline, and Fabbri is still available after he went straight to the dressing room after his late shot block.
At the end of the day, that was arguably the biggest win of Detroit’s season and throws them into being one of the current favorites to take the final wildcard spot. With 6 games to go until the deadline. the team has made Yzerman’s decisions difficult, which is again a good problem to have. The Wings next game is Thursday as they return home to play the Rangers in what should be a rocking LCA.
FEELIN' GOOD! pic.twitter.com/Ftvvms5nCq— Detroit Red Wings (@DetroitRedWings) February 22, 2023