Nedeljkovic Leaves the Best for Last with 1-0 Shutout |
Netminder finishes rehab stint with 27 save shutout of Chicago Wolves...
By Jason Kasiorek
January 14th, 2023
Red Wings goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic was the first star in two starts and a force in all six of the AHL games he played while serving a conditioning stint with the Grand Rapids Griffins. However, the NHL refugee saved his best for last, turning aside 27 shots for a shutout in his last game before returning to Detroit. The Griffins defense turned in a strong performance to make sure that Ned's last start was a successful one, leaving him with a record of 3-2-1 with a 2.30 GAA and a .920 Save percentage. Rookie Cross Hanas, recently returning from injury, scored the lone goal for Grand Rapids, his 8th of the season.
Grand Rapids came out of the gate with more jump than the last several games, notching the first 4 shots of the game and generating some good chances. The Griffins struck early in the 1st on a heads up Play from Cross Hanas. Taro Hirose tried to go around the back of the net for a wrap-around, but the goalie flashed the pad for the save. Hanas in the slot stuffed the rebound to give the home team the lead. The wolves Lajoie went to the box for hooking, setting up a GR powerplay and a chance to expand the lead. Unfortunately, the powerplay was disorganized and didn't generate any shots, the best scoring chance was a shorthanded one for the Wolves. Seth Barton along the boards blew a tire and the puck squirted out for a Wolves 2-on-1. Nedeljkovic made the initial stop, and Barton got back to scoop up the rebound right before it was shot into the net. Shots on goal: GR 10 - Chi 11.
The Wolves got into penalty trouble in the second, with three straight Griffins powerplays. Grand Rapids had a few chances, but also gave up several quality shorthanded chances and could not get another goal. Tyler Spezia brought the puck into the Wolves zone on his knees and then got hit by Gunler which touched off a big scrum. The resulting 4-on-4 was entertaining as it opened up the ice a lot, but the only real scoring chance was a shot through traffic by Hirose.
Shots on goal: GR 9 - Chi 9.
Simon Edvinsson used his massive wingspan to break up a pass and then steal the puck. The Griffins are picking up the hitting game early in the third. Jakub Vrana with a very good shift early in the period. He was really engaged and went after the puck, stole it and used his speed to create a chance. This was legitimately the first time I have noticed him for something positive since he joined the team. Great defensive play by Barton who got in the way of two wolves behind the net, so that neither could play the puck. Nedeljkovic out of the net to play the puck and hold up traffic, looks like a third defenseman at times. Joel L'Esperance up the middle with a good chance, then just about batted the rebound in as he skated past the side of the net.
Big save by Ned, from a point blank chance by Chicago. Dominik Shine shot up the slot all alone, but fanned on his chance. Albert Johansson and Stromwall off for roughing with four minutes left setting up a 4-on4. The Wolves pulled their goalie for the extra and kept him out the rest of the game. Nedeljkovic with a chance at the empty net, but fanned on it, and his body language knew he had shanked the shot. Hirose got the puck and backhanded it down the ice, but it rolled just wide. Griffins doing a great job of taking away the passing lanes and getting in front of shots and passes. Chicago clearly frustrated with not being able to get anything through. The clock finally ticked down to zero on a 1-0 win, and Nedeljkovic was mobbed by his teammates to celebrate. Shots on goal: GR 1 - Chi 7. For the Game: GR 20 - Chi 27.
#25 Soderblom - #27 Czarnik - #39 Chiasson
#71 Hanas - #96 Andreasson - #25 Soderblom
#17 Hirose - #27 Czarnik/#22 Pearson/#96 Andreasson - #11 L'Esperance
#15 Vrana - #96 Andreasson/#22 Pearson - #51 Criscuolo
#32 Spezia - #22 Pearson - #65 Shine
#33 Johansson - #20 Kampfer
#77 Edvinsson - #40 Newpower
#49 barton - #3 McIsaac
Starter: #34 Nedeljkovic
Backup: #1 Brattstrom
#25 Soderblom - #96 Andreasson - #39 Chiasson
#71 Hanas - #77 Edvinsson
#11 L'Esperance - #27 Czarnik - #22 Pearson
#15 Frana - #20 Kampfer
#17 Hirose - #27 Czarnik
#33 Johansson - #20 Kampfer
#51 Criscuolo - #65 Shine
#77 Edvinsson - #40 Newpower
#32 Spezia - #22 Pearson
After watching two of the worst ages I have ever seen he griffins play, they rebounded with a strong effort to get the win over Chicago. It was a total team effort, as they played a smothering defense at times, completely closing off passing lanes and clogging the middle. Nedeljkovic played a great game, but he was not alone. This group has been Jekyl and Hyde all season, wish they could figure out how to turn that switch on more often. The bad news is that with Nedeljkovic returning to the NHL we are now left with two sub-par netminders and lose a lot of swagger and confidence.
Jakub Vrana has taken a lot of heat over his play since returning from the NHL player assistance program. He is clearly trying to work through some things to regain his passion for the game and has been a shadow of himself for the most part. He came out flying in the third period and looked to be engaged and ready. He carried the puck, battled for it along the boards and even through a couple of hits. Here's to hoping he is starting to find his game. His return would be huge for the Griffins, but even bigger for the young man wearing #15.