Larkin's struggles magnified under NHL lens

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Detroit center Dylan Larkin played a career-low 7 minutes, 58 seconds in Sunday's 5-2 victory over Pittsburgh.

Detroit — All those Red Wings fans who feel certain prospects often stay too long ripening in Grand Rapids, take a look at Dylan Larkin’s situation.

Larkin made the NHL right out of training camp last season, and rightfully so, with the way he played.

He was among the first-half contenders for Rookie of the Year, then slumped the second half.

Larkin’s road this season has continued to be rocky, including Sunday playing a career-low 7 minutes, 58 seconds.

While learning, developing and adjusting right now, Larkin is doing it under the glare of the NHL spotlight and not in the minor leagues.

Players such as Anthony Mantha, Andreas Athanasiou, Nick Jensen, Xavier Ouellet and Ryan Sproul, among many others, spent considerable time learning in Grand Rapids before graduating to the NHL.

Larkin is learning on the job, at the NHL level.

Zetterberg proves he’s not ready for the scrap heap

“Right now he’s not on the power play or penalty kill, and when you’re not on either of those units, it’s hard to play lots,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “It’s just the reality of the situation.

“If you’re not on either one, and you don’t go right after those ones, then you don’t get as much ice time.”

Larkin is one of the fastest players in the league but the Red Wings want to see him stop more often, whether it be in the defensive zone, on an opposing player, or on the puck.

“There are things he’s doing in a positive way that he is going to need for long-term success, in terms of stopping and those types of things,” Blashill said. “It’s just a matter of continuing to build on those parts of his game.”

Blashill feels this is all part of the learning process and Larkin will grow from it.

“He’s got a great compete level, that’s never gone away,” Blashill said. “He has great desire to do well. This isn’t, to me, abnormal. This is what I kind of expected as part of the development process. It started the second half of last year and continued into this year.

“Ultimately trust equals minutes and the more the coach trusts you, the more minutes you get. How do you earn the trust? One, make sure he’s stopping all over the ice, and it’s something we’ve talked about.

“Dylan is having to do it (learning process) in the NHL. Those are hard things. Most of our guys have had the opportunity to learn it in GR.”

Confident group

Monday’s practice was an optional after two games — and victories — in two days against two of the tops teams in the NHL, Washington and Pittsburgh.

With the Red Wings still last in the Atlantic Division and their playoff hopes barely alive, the two impressive wins boosted confidence around the locker room.

“It certainly feels good,” forward Thomas Vanek said. “Obviously the big picture (overall playoff race) is not pretty, so the message is just to play it game by game.

“This group has a lot of character, so that’s good. There’s nothing to worry about on that side. We’ll come out and play hard and win games.”

Blashill felt the Red Wings earned the victories and should feel good about it.

“Confidence matters,” Blashill said. “You can do things right for a long period of time and if you don’t get wins, it’s hard to gain that same level of confidence. We’ve done lots right and been in a lot of close games like we were this weekend and we didn’t come out with two points. This weekend we found our way to two points.

“We need to do that on an extremely consistent basis, find a way to get those points. Certainly the wins help but every day is a new challenge.”

Ice chips

Defenseman Mike Green (stomach virus) was on the ice Monday after missing the last two games and is expected to play Tuesday against the Islanders.

“I feel great,” Green said. “I’m ready to go.”

…Goaltender Jimmy Howard (sprained knee) took part in the optional practice, but there’s no timetable yet as to when he’ll head for another conditioning game in Grand Rapids. Howard re-aggravated his injury in a rehab game with the Griffins two weeks ago.

“It’s another step in the right direction,” said Blashill, of Howard being able to practice.

Blashill feels more will be known about Howard after Tuesday’s practice.

Islanders at Red Wings

Faceoff: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Joe Louis Arena

TV/radio: FSD/97.1

Outlook: The Islanders (27-21-10, 64 points) have clawed into playoff contention under new coach Doug Weight (Warren) … C John Tavares (49 points) and LW Anders Lee (22 goals) are leading offensively.