The Detroit Red Wings couldn’t have given Calvin Pickard a much more difficult assignment for his first and perhaps only NHL start to the season: on the road against Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the powerhouse Pittsburgh Penguins.
Pickard responded by making 36 saves in regulation and overtime and stopping all three penalty attempts in a 3-2 win at PPG Paints Arena.
The Red Wings (19-19-6) bounced back from a dismal defensive performance two nights earlier in an 8-5 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks.
Pickard, 29, has been backing up Alex Nedeljkovic in recent games after being recalled from the Grand Rapids Griffins on Jan. 17 when Thomas Greiss was placed on COVID protocol. Coach Jeff Blashill didn’t want Nedeljkovic to start back-to-back nights, so he picked Pickard for the Penguins and will go with Nedeljkovic tonight against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Little Caesars Arena (7 pm, Bally Sports Detroit).
“Calvin is a warrior,” Blashill said. “He fights to win games, so we felt like this was the right game. He did a great job. Obviously, in the shootout, he shuts them out, that’s huge. The boys play hardball for Calvin. He is a great, great competitor. Every time he has played for us, for the most part, he has done a very good job.”
Pickard has had a solid season in Grand Rapids (13-8-5, 2.40 goals against average, .927 save percentage), giving the Red Wings confidence that he can get the job done.
“Playing a lot in Grand Rapids keeps me on my toes, which has been good,” Pickard said. “The boys played very well in front of me. Some timely goals, we had a lot of the puck tonight and limited his time and space.”
Givani Smith and Filip Zadina (power play) scored for the Red Wings in regulation, while Jake Guentzel scored both of Pittsburgh’s goals, the first on the power play and the second 27 seconds into the tying third period. the score 2-2.
Pickard said his mindset in the shootout was to be patient, taking on Guentzel, Crosby and Kris Letang.
“Obviously you see those guys scoring all the time in shootouts,” Pickard said. “I wanted to challenge them, be patient, let them make the first move. I did that for the most part and Razor had a big goal as well.”
Lucas Raymond scored the only goal of the penalty shootout.
Officer Pickard has appeared in 11 games for the Red Wings in the last three seasons. He posted consecutive wins against Columbus last season.
“Pick is a great, great person. He has a great personality. He is a guy that people like to follow,” Blashill said. “He has worked extremely hard to continue to be at the top of his game. He has had a great year in Grand Rapids. He is a guy that guys want to play hard for. He has been a good goalkeeper in this league for a long time. He’s definitely a guy that when he’s between the tubes the guys hang out.”
The Red Wings were also happy for Zadina, who has struggled all season.
He scored his first goal in 19 games and his fifth of the season at 16:31 of the second half, knocking down the rebound from Nick Leddy’s shot.
“The best part of that power play goal was the poise he showed under the goal line to get the puck up and then go to the cage and score those dirty goals,” Blashill said. “He and I have talked a lot about this: it’s hard to score skill goals consistently in this league. It’s hard to beat goalkeepers, not even from the outside, but even in the top slot, so you have to find ways to score goals from the front.”
Plus: Former Red Wing Justin Abdelkader headed to the Olympics
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism