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Detroit Red Wings Need to Step up During Difficult Stretch

The Detroit Red Wings currently sit in fifth place in the Atlantic Division of the Eastern Conference. The team has won 22 out of the 49 games that they have played at the time of this writing. As I have indicated in the past this was more than was expected as the team would start the 2021-22 NHL season punching above its weight.

One of the main reasons for the unexpected start to this season was the fact that general manager Steve Yzerman acquired Alex Nedeljkovic from the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for goaltender Jonathan Bernier and a third-round draft pick in the upcoming draft. When asked why the then general manager of the Hurricanes Ron Francis was willing to make this trade, Yzerman said that "you’d have to ask him."

Nedeljkovic seems to have found a home in Detroit. He was quoted recently as saying it was ‘smooth sailing.’ This is due to his being a resident of metro Detroit with his wife Emma. Everyone would perform better at their job if they had a stable family and living situation. As for a contract extension that is upcoming? The fact that the Red Wings are no longer in a salary cap bind is helpful. Yzerman has proven that he is willing to do anything to improve the Red Wings’ roster. The Red Wings have $10,838,622 in salary cap space for the 2022-23 season.

Dylan Larkin Continues to Shine

Dylan Larkin leads the team with 51 points in 45 games played so far during the 2021-22 season. The captain has certainly cemented himself as the leader of the team. This comes a season after Larkin missed most of the 2020-21 season with a neck injury after Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars cross-checked him. Larkin was the Red Wings’ lone representative at the all-star game in Las Vegas and competed once again in the fastest skater competition that he won in 2016 with a time of 13.172 seconds.

Larkin has scored more goals than Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers at the time of writing this. Both Larkin and McDavid have had the same amount of success in the playoffs for their respective teams. That is to say, zero. The pressure to win has seemingly gotten to Leon Draisaitl as he had a back and forth with Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal amid a six-game losing streak. The Oilers are under pressure to win now or they risk wasting the careers of not only McDavid but also Draisaitl. The Red Wings will face the Oilers on March 15th.

Whereas the Oilers need to win a Stanley Cup soon to not waste the careers of two of the best players in the sport, the Red Wings are in a rebuild, and "upper management" is seemingly fine with this. The irony of these two teams’ situations is that Ken Holland is now the general manager of the Oilers who had all of his success leading the Red Wings to four Stanley Cup championships. Holland’s critics will point out that he had all of this success when the NHL did not have a salary cap.

It may not be fair to compare Larkin to the greatest player of his generation. McDavid does everything well on the ice. The 25-year-old was the best prospect to come into the NHL in 2015 since Wayne Gretzky. On the other hand, Larkin was seen as a player who could be a second-line power forward who drives play and skates well.

The Red Wings will have to play with this same type of togetherness as they have the most difficult schedule remaining of any team in the NHL. This togetherness was witnessed on the opening night of the season when Larkin was hit from behind by Mathieu Joseph of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Larkin would get up from the hit from behind and hit Joseph in the jaw while the team would wind up losing this game in overtime.

This stretch of hockey has not gotten off to the best start. The Red Wings lost to the Minnesota Wild by a score of 7-4. Matt Boldy of the Wild scored the first hat trick of his young career. The Red Wings have had a penchant for making rookie opponents look like all-stars this season. Dylan Strome of the Chicago Blackhawks scored a hat trick against the Red Wings in a game that Chicago would win by a score of 8-5. Larkin himself has scored the first hat trick of his career in this season that started out very promising.

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