Ottawa, Ontario – Darren Helm has never been a prolific goal scorer, a huge offensive force, a guy who is on highlight films for his moves to the net.
But defensively, or in the intangible areas, few players are as noticeable as Helm.
Thus far this season, Helm is doing those things again.
Helm had five points (two goals, three assists) in 13 games, but it’s not necessarily offense that coach Jeff Blashill looks for from his veteran.
“Darren has played excellent,” Blashill said. “You’ve got to have a great combination of competitiveness, grit and skill on your team. He's given us tons of grit, competitiveness, and he’s got enough skill.
“He’s a threat on the penalty kill. He and Frans (Nielsen) have great chemistry, so whoever we put with them (currently Justin Abdelkader), has been a good complement.
“Abby complements them real well.”
Always a hard worker who plays with a large amount of energy, Helm also still has the speed which puts him among the most dangerous players in the league.
But it’s Helm's competitiveness that Blashill pointed to after Thursday’s morning skate, noting a play during Tuesday’s victory over Arizona.
Helm won a key battle along the boards and was able to get the puck to Dylan Larkin, who skated into the zone and scored what proved to be the game-winning goal.
“It could have gone either way (the puck battle) and it goes our way and it goes in the net, a big goal in the game,” Blashill said. “He’s made a big contribution in a positive way so far this season and I see him continuing that.”
Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby and Edmonton’s Connor McDavid are generally regarded as the best players in the NHL.
But the two forwards, in actuality, share that crown with Ottawa defenseman Erik Karlsson, a two-time Norris Trophy (best defenseman) winner.
Karlsson missed the first five games this season due to an ankle injury, but has returned to post 10 assists in seven games.
Karlsson’s ability to skate the puck out of trouble and create offense is generally unmatched in the league
“When Karlsson’s on the ice, they’re a better hockey team,” Blashill said. “He’s one of the best players in the world. His coach (Guy Boucher) called him the best player in the world when he was coming back.
“The one thing with him is, you have to make sure you never let him beat you up the ice as a forward. So you might forecheck him, you better stay above him the whole way back up the ice, and then as he comes in the zone know he is going to make a lot of plays.”
Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg, a friend of Karlsson’s and teammate on Team Sweden, doesn’t put much stock in Karlsson’s minus-4 plus-minus rating, along with those assists (Karlsson was minus-6 Tuesday against Montreal).
“That’s a lot (minus-6), but he could also be a plus-8 the next game,” Zetterberg said. “When he’s on his game, he’s tough to defend. He has everything, he skates, great vision, good shot, so when we play a guy like that, you just have to minimize their space and time and have the puck instead of him.”
Blashill said forward Frans Nielsen would be a game-time decision after Nielsen didn’t take part in the morning skate.
Blashill said Nielsen’s issue isn’t long term, and the Red Wings were just being precautionary not having Nielsen skate.
…Forward David Booth cleared waivers, but will remain with the Red Wings, said Blashill. The waiver procedure was mainly done to give the Red Wings roster flexibility, if needed, should the team need to make a personnel move.
Booth skated on a line with Helm and Abdelkader, taking Nielsen’s spot, in the morning skate.
…The Red Wings will stay over in Ottawa after the game and travel Friday to Edmonton. Using Friday as a travel day, they’ll practice Saturday before facing the Oilers the following afternoon.