The Detroit Red Wings have had a season to forget. But this past weekend served as a bright spot for a team currently sitting dead-last in the newly-formed Central Division.
Having lost starting netminder Jonathan Bernier to injury on March 18, the team opted to go with Thomas Greiss as his replacement moving forward. That experiment lasted all of three games – all losses by the German backstop.
Called into duty as a starter for the first time since November 29, 2019, the Red Wings turned to Calvin Pickard for a two-game weekend set against the visiting Columbus Blue Jackets.
It proved to be the right decision.
Picking up his first win since November 23, 2018, the Winnipeg product turned aside 21 of the 22 Columbus shots he faced, earning a 3-1 win in just his 15th NHL start over the past four seasons. He followed up Saturday’s performance with another victory over Patrik Laine and the lowly Blue Jackets, making 16 saves in the 4-1 victory.
“Obviously, my games at this level have been few and far between in the past few years, but I know I’m still capable of playing at this level,” the 28-year-old Pickard said. “It helped that I got to play the last 50 minutes of the Nashville game, even though you never want to have a game like that, and I was able to get one game in down in Grand Rapids.”
The game Pickard was referencing was a matchup with the Predators to which he was thrown into action just eight minutes into the game, after Greiss allowed three goals off the bat. Following that game in Nashville, Pickard has allowed just two goals and has put up a save percentage of .949. He actually also went 66:42 between goals this weekend.
“I think he has been the X-factor for us this weekend,” Detroit captain Dylan Larkin said of Pickard. “Every time they got a chance, he swallowed it up. He was rock-solid and he didn’t give up any rebounds.”
Undoubtedly in line to retain the starter’s role for the upcoming two-game set against the Florida Panthers, the former Winnipeg Monarchs AAA star actually accomplished a feat that he hadn’t done since his rookie season with the Colorado Avalanche: winning games on back-to-back nights (December 20-21, 2014).
“He brightens up the room,” Larkin added. “He’s such a great guy; he’s a worker. He’ll do anything in practice — he’ll stay out until the last guy is out there. Always has a smile, always has a joke or a one-liner. He’s just a great teammate and a great professional. We are all pretty pumped for him. We know he’ll be ready and he’ll perform for us.”
Prior to the start of the 2020-21 season, Pickard travelled overseas, where he suited up in six contests for Vienna in the Austrian League before heading back to North America in preparation for the season. He had primarily been used on Detroit’s Taxi Squad prior to Bernier’s injury.