After a promising start to the year, marked by a couple of talented young rookies exceeding expectations out of the gate, the latter stretch of the Detroit Red Wings’ season has become a bit of a slog. The slim hope they perhaps held of ending their playoff drought ahead of schedule—a hope that peaked when they were 13-9-3 in early December—has long since vanished. The team has gone an uninspiring 6-10-1 since the beginning of February. And their players-for-picks moves at the trade deadline essentially put a period on the end of an at-times exciting but again ultimately empty 2022 season.
Except nobody told the players! On Tuesday night at home, in a 6-3 win over the Philadelphia Flyers, reasons to enjoy and be interested in the Red Wings as they are now existed in abundance. The rookie former first-rounder Joe Veleno kicked off the scoring. Jakub Vrana, who might be very good but missed most of the year due to injury, had two goals. Lucas Raymond, the sensational 19-year-old winger, picked up his 20th of the season. Oskar Sundqvist, who just came over from St. Louis, scored his first as a Wing. And Moritz Seider, the 20-year-old defenseman who’s put together a first year worthy of Nick Lidstrom comparisons, made a couple of plays that will stick with me for a long time.
The first, from the opening period, called to mind an angry Pavel Datsyuk—the legendary Red Wing who could famously apparate away from defenders while magnetizing the puck to his stick. In this flash of brilliance, Seider doesn’t start out too hot, losing the puck in his own zone because of Oskar Lindblom’s aggression. But Seider found an elegantly simple solution to this trouble: He simply gave Lindblom a boop on the midsection to send him tumbling down to the ice. From there, Seider calmly deked another Flyer and sent a flawless pass through a third, breaking out the Red Wings onto the attack. It was equal parts physical and graceful, tough and skilled, and that’s what’s made him such a beauty in Motown during these first 63 games.
The second play was all badass rough-edged obstinacy. With the Wings leading 4-3 in the third period, Seider took control after a faceoff and dumped the puck into the zone. In doing so, he set himself up for a check from Max Willman. You’d maybe think that, since he’s an inexperienced kid still growing into his frame, Seider might be a player who can be bullied or intimidated. But Willman learned a hard lesson in this moment.
There is still nearly a quarter of the season remaining, but particularly in the East there’s very little uncertainty about who will or won’t be continuing on into the playoffs. It’s, frankly, not my favorite time of the hockey season, as the belief has been snuffed out of half the league and a shrinking percentage of games on any given night hold any kind of short-term relevancy. Flyers-Wings was definitely one of those games that could and maybe even should have been ignored, because both sides’ GMs have their eyes fixed on the horizon and probably couldn’t care less about the results of this particular March. However, hockey for hockey’s sake is still worthwhile, and the action on the rink doesn’t have to hold Cup implications in order to entertain. But hopefully for Seider, late March games will have some meaning for him and his team sooner rather than later.