After two frustrating years, Helm 'stronger, smarter'

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — Darren Helm sensed an opportunity and took advantage of it.

Helm got the puck inside the blue line, had a little bit of gap between him and New Jersey's Eric Gelinas, and began driving toward the net.

"I could tell their guy was a little tired," said Helm, of the Devils defenseman, as it was toward the end of a shift late in the third period. "I was tired. Everyone was getting a little tired."

But Helm kept driving, went backhand, then forehand, and slipped his second goal of the evening past Devils goalie Cory Schneider to clinch the Red Wings' 3-1 New Year's Eve victory.

"I just wanted to stick with it and make a strong play and it worked out," Helm said. "I was nice to get that one and make a little bit of breathing room."

After two successive years of endless injuries, time away from the lineup and frustration few players could ever experience in their careers, Helm's big night as a new year dawned was a bit of a feel-good story.

Helm has played in all 38 games this season and has 18 points (with seven goals and 11 assists).

"It's always nice to see him get credit for all the work he put in," said Henrik Zetterberg, who could sympathize with Helm during an injury-plagued last season. "It's not easy to be injured and go through all the rehab and a spend a lot of time working out.

"It's nice to see him get some goals and points."

If there's a bright spot in the endless string of injuries, it's the fact Helm believes he has gotten stronger mentally and physically while overcoming the stays on the injured list.

"Stronger, smarter," said Helm, of what he's become after the last couple seasons. "It takes a lot more than just coming in and going on the ice. For me personally, I have to lot to do while preparing. I'm not going to get too excited if something doesn't feel right.

"I stay patient and do what I need to do to make sure I'm ready to play for that night and the next couple of games after that.

"It feels great (to have stayed healthy and contributed this season). Up until the last two games, I thought in the last 10 games before that, I was playing well. I got my step back a little bit through Christmas and hopefully I can get a big push through the All-Star break and for the rest of the season."

Coach Mike Babcock felt Helm's line with Gustav Nyquist and Johan Franzen wasn't up to par Monday in Boston.

But the line responded in a big way against New Jersey, with Nyquist and Franzen setting up both of Helm's goals.

"Helm's line had a big game," Babcock said. "I didn't think his line was any good at all in Boston. It was great to see them bounce back. They were solid.

"That was Mule's (Franzen) best game in a long, long time. He was very competitive, so that's positive."

Long road stretch starts

The Red Wings begin a long stretch on the road with a practice Friday in Vancouver ahead of Saturday's game against the Canucks.

The three-game western Canada swing begins a stretch of 17 of 23 games away from Joe Louis Arena.

The Red Wings feel they're ready.

"We're heading to a tough trip, many games on the road," Tomas Tatar said. "The table is really stacked right now so we need these points a lot. It doesn't matter if we're playing home or away. It's really equal right now. Even point we can get we need.

"It is a lot of games in short term. We have to focus, stay healthy, recover good and try and pick up as many points as we can."

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/tkulfan