Dear Red Wings: Pickard shines; Yzerman’s downtime; China’s terrible roster ... and more

Red Wings top Penguins in shootout, Yzerman gives rare national TV interview, Jakub Vrana skates and much more

Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby (87) and Detroit Red Wings' Moritz Seider (53) are separated by a linesman during the third period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Friday, Jan. 28, 2022. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar) (Gene J. Puskar, Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Moritz Seider and Lucas Raymond are rookies. Let’s not forget that. Because it’s easy to forget that.

Meanwhile, what does Steve Yzerman do in his downtime that he can’t share on TV?

And just how embarrassing will China’s hockey team be at the Olympics? It helps that the NHL isn’t competing ... but still.

But first, last night

Calvin Pickard, folks. He gets the call-up and makes 36 saves (.947 SV%), earning the W in a shootout that included stops on Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang on Friday night in Pittsburgh. That’s just how the Red Wings drew it up, a 3-2 win with their third-string goalie over the Penguins in a shootout ... on the road.

Detroit looked strong all night, not at all intimidated by the likes of Crosby, Letang or Evgeny Malkin. They took advantage of a Penguins team that had just gone to overtime against the Seattle Kraken the night before -- they lost that game, too. These are probably two games Pittsburgh wishes they could take back.

But nonetheless, a wonderful effort from the young Red Wings. And as stated, Pickard dazzled between the pipes -- did you know he’s posting a .927 in Grand Rapids this year with a 13-8-5 record? He’s just 29, which is still young-ish by goalie standards ... anyway, he had a good night. He grinded it out with the rest of the team.

Overall it was a very nice win for the young squad, and Seider and Raymond were huge contributing factors. I honestly cannot believe what I am watching most nights when it comes to Seider. He is so good. I’m sort of speechless. He had absolutely zero respect for Crosby all night, and you love to see that. What confidence he has for such a young player. Wow.

Raymond, meanwhile, seems to have some of his swagger back after his little mid-season slump. That was a beautiful shootout goal to cap off a quality game from him.

Of course, perhaps the main event of the night was Filip Zadina scoring his first goal in 19 games. Yes, he had not scored since the year 2021. He was getting his chances, no doubt. Hopefully this is the start of something. It was becoming difficult to watch him stare at the rafters after every shift, or down at his skates, so let’s hope we can move on from that.

The Red Wings are now 19-19-6 and 7 points out of a Wild Card playoff spot.

One more note: I love that Givani Smith finally got rewarded with a goal. He plays tough minutes and is getting better at driving the net. He needs to get his big body out front like that more often. He has good enough hands to put some pucks away.

Detroit Red Wings goaltender Calvin Pickard (31) stops a shot by Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby (87) with Moritz Seider (53) defending during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Friday, Jan. 28, 2022. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar) (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Jakub Vrana is not back, let’s be clear

I know we all got excited when seeing videos and images of Jakub Vrana on the ice this week at practice, but it sounds like he still has a little ways to go before returning to game action.

The Red Wings announced way back in September that Vrana would undergo surgery and miss at least 4 months. That timeline remains on track if you expect Vrana back some time in February. However, it sounds like he may not be back until late February or early March. He is skating with the team in non-contact attire, which is a good step, but remember it was shoulder surgery.

Vrana can add some much-needed scoring power to this team, so I’m definitely just as impatient as the next Red Wings fan. But this guy is part of the next couple of seasons, too (three-year contract). Let’s not rush him back and risk further injury.

Meanwhile, Anthony Mantha, who was traded in exchange for Vrana this past season, suffered his own shoulder injury back in November and has remained out of the Washington Capitals lineup. What are the odds?

Yzerman’s downtime -- be honest, Steve

What does Steve Yzerman do in his downtime -- to “decompress” -- and why is it not safe to say on national TV??

Well, the TNT crew asked him about it this week. He’s a busy guy -- running an NHL organization and all -- but what does he do when he’s not doing that? He said:

“Umm, I can’t be honest with that one, not on national TV (he chuckled). You know, I watch a lot of hockey. It’s unreal ... I watch games. I’ll go home tonight and I’ll watch a late game. To get away from it? I’d like to say I play golf, but I’m not very good and I don’t enjoy it so I question why I do that. I don’t even have the attention span to read books -- I listen to audio books. So that’s what I do. I lay in bed with my earphones in and listen to books. I guess that’s what I do to take my mind off it and sleep.”

Then he joked about his lack of attention span:

“I was scholastic player of the year in grade 11, by the way. And then I didn’t graduate from 12th grade, but grade 11 was a good year.”

He was all smiles during that back-and-forth with the TNT crew, which is good to see.

China’s putrid Olympic roster includes Jake Chelios, Ryan Sproul

China has thrown together a men’s hockey team for this Winter Olympics that promises to get absolutely pounded by the rest of the field. Since it is the host country, China gets to have a team despite not technically qualifying. Some are saying this roster won’t even score a goal in the tournament. Amazing.

Remember, the number of goals scored each game matters in this tournament as it can weigh on standings and tie-breakers. China is in Group A with the U.S., Germany and Canada -- gulp. All three of those teams will undoubtedly be in competition to see who can rack up the most goals on poor China. What a sight this will be. There are good people trying to grow the game of hockey in China ... I don’t know if this will help. Like I mentioned above, yes I think it definitely helps China that the NHL is not sending its players, but barely.

The roster includes a list of familiar NHL has-beens and never-was’s -- mostly never-was’s. Many of them currently play for China’s KHL team Kunlun Red Star in Beijing. These are players who aren’t actually Chinese citizens but have since been nationalized to meet Olympic eligibility. Kunlun is by far the worst team in the KHL, to be clear. I’m not trying to disparage them personally. But collectively, the talent is ... lacking.

Former Red Wings defensemen Jake Chelios and Ryan Sproul are among the list. Both are regulars on the Red Star roster -- Sproul has 24 points in 48 games played this season.

Dearborn native and former Plymouth Whalers goalie Jeremy Smith is on the China roster, too. He’s also playing for Kunlun right now.

Good luck, guys.

China will also ice a women’s team, but they’ll compete in Group B with Japan, Czech Republic, Sweden and Denmark.

The women’s preliminary round games start Thursday, Feb. 3. The men’s preliminary round games start Wednesday, Feb. 9.

Abdelkader -- some clarity on the PTO

Speaking of the Olympics, Justin Abdelkader was released from this professional tryout with the Grand Rapids Griffins and has joined Team USA as an alternate for the Olympics. Now the PTO makes more sense.

📅 Coming up


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About the Author:

Dave Bartkowiak Jr. is the digital managing editor for ClickOnDetroit.