It’s just over halfway through the first period. The Detroit Red Wings and the Minnesota Wild are tied up 1-1. Minnesota’s Joel Eriksson Ek harmlessly tossed the puck into the offensive zone. Never afraid to play the puck, Detroit’s starting goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic takes a whack at the puck to keep it away from the Wild. Instead, he knocked it into his own net, 2-1 Wild.
Minnesota eventually won the matchup 6-5 in a shootout.
Sports players of any kind should not be defined by just one play. Nedeljkovic has had some excellent stretches with Detroit – one gaffe doesn’t change that. However, that own-goal was pretty much a (exaggerated) representation of how the past few months have gone for Detroit’s starting goaltender.
Nedeljkovic has been extremely inconsistent in his last five. He was stellar against the Tampa Bay Lightning, finishing with a .946 save percentage and single-handedly kept the game competitive. He also had a strong game against the Florida Panthers when he replaced Thomas Greiss (finishing with a .938 save percentage).
In Detroit’s disastrous loss to the Arizona Coyotes, Nedeljkovic finished with a paltry .741 save percentage. In fact, he was replaced by Thomas Greiss (although Neddy later returned after Greiss put up a rough performance). Nedeljkovic also finished with a sub-.900 save percentage in the aforementioned loss to the Wild.
In fact, on the season, Nedeljkovic now has a .901 save percentage. At the beginning of the year, his save percentage was well above .900. He was propping up the team regularly, powering Detroit to wins they didn’t necessarily earn. That is not the case at all of late.
So why is Nedeljokovic struggling so much? Well, first, one has to consider Detroit’s brutal schedule. The first few months of the season were a cakewalk compared to the gauntlet the Wings have embarked on since February. Teams like Tampa Bay, Florida and the Avalanche are just some of the top-level opponents Detroit has faced. Simply put, Nedeljkovic has had to face better competition. Also, as Detroit’s competition has gotten better, the defense has played significantly worse. Mistakes from players like Danny DeKeyser and Nick Leddy have made life harder for the Wings goaltenders.
In all likelihood, Nedeljkovic is just getting a bit cold at the absolute worst time. He’s not a bad goalie – he just can’t mask Detroit’s failures anymore. Unfortunately, there’s a good chance Neddy doesn’t get much better until the team starts playing better.