Detroit Red Wings’ Alex Nedeljkovic has a goaltending competitive philosophy that involves a mixture of optimism and pragmatism.
“Just do your job. Come in and get better every day,” Nedeljkovic said. “If it was a bad day, shake it off. There’s always tomorrow. Come in tomorrow and you get a chance to do it over again. But understanding right now there’s somebody behind you that is ready to go, kind of nipping at your heels to take your spot.”
Nedeljkovic, 26, believes you never want to become too comfortable as a pro athlete. And it’s particularly true this season for Nedeljkovic and Detroit teammates because Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman added considerable depth this season.
“We have a lot of guys at every position up and down the lineup that can come in and step in and have an impact every day,” Nedeljkovic said.
That includes the goalie position. Nedeljkovic established himself as Detroit’s No. 1 goalie last season. He played 59 games. But Yzerman acquired Ville Husso from the St. Louis Blues. Husso, 27, was exceptional last season, posting a 25-7-6 record with a 2.56 goals-against average and .919 save percentage.
Derek Lalonde said Nedeljkovic and Husso will both get the net early. He wants it to be a "healthy competition." #LGRW
— Daniella Bruce (@daniellabruce_) September 22, 2022
Husso vs. Ned
Yzerman set up a true goalie competition, particularly with a new Red Wings coach Derek Lalonde also in the mix. Lalonde doesn’t have allegiances or history with either goalie.
Even when a team starts out with a tandem approach, it usually evolves into one goalie playing more than the other. But most NHL coaches today don’t like to overtax their No. 1. Only five NHL goalies played more games than Nedeljkovic last season.
“I think in this league you need to have two good goalies,” Husso said. “I think it’s a good situation for me and Ned to battle for the spot. Whoever wins more games I bet will play.”
Even though goalies battle for playing time, it’s almost an NHL tradition that they become friends. That’s starting to happen with Husso and Nedeljkovic.
“It’s normal in this job,” Husso said. “There’s always two goalies. I think I have a good relationship with him, so I don’t see that there is any bad things for that. I try to push him and he’ll push me at the same time. I think it’s a very good situation where we are.”
Nedeljkovic said Husso is a great guy.
“Everything I’ve heard from other players and guys that played with him and knew him a little bit said he’s a nice guy and a good teammate,” Nedeljkovic said. “Got to skate with him the last two weeks at LCA and same thing there. We’re on the ice, not really learning from each other, but pushing each other to be better and learning what makes each other tick. I think it’s going to be a great year getting to know him and be his partner and hopefully push each other to both have success.”
Husso Owns Size Advantage
Nedeljkovic started out strong last season and won over fans with an acrobatic battling style. Husso, at 6-foot-3, is taller than Nedeljkovic. Husso has a fresh three-year contract and Nedeljkovic will be an unrestricted free agent next summer.
“I would say (I’m) butterfly style, but there’s a couple of things,” Husso said. “I’m trying to read the play pretty well. I feel like as a Finnish goalie, you always have the good hands and stuff. But at the end of the day, you want to try to stop the puck. It doesn’t matter how. Just try to get something in front of it. If you have the good basic setup for yourself, usually you’re in a good spot in the crease and you can make the save.”
Husso had the more consistent season in 2021-22, but it’s still difficult to handicap the Husso vs. Nedeljkovic competition because Lalonde doesn’t have an NHL history as an NHL coach. But winning and consistent play undoubtedly rule once the season begins. It may be November or December before one goalie pulls ahead of the other.
Until then, the goalies will have eight preseason games to show where their game is at this season. However, neither is playing Tuesday at Pittsburgh. Victor Brattstrom is getting the start for the Red Wings, with Sebastian Cossa playing in relief in the second half of the game.
“Just take it day by day,” Nedeljkovic said of his outlook for the season. “Biggest thing for me that I said at the end of last year was to be more consistent, both physically on the ice, mentally and it starts today.”