Dylan Larkin evolves into Red Wings’ marathon man
Detroit — Dylan Larkin played more minutes against the Lightning Monday than ever in his career, and his extra work in the offseason is what helped make the night a success.
If Larkin keeps it up, he may turn the ore of a good player into the steel of a great one.
What the Red Wings prize about Larkin, beyond his skill, is his willingness to work. His capacity for it seems to come almost instinctive.
One look at Larkin in the dressing room this early season made plain he is a bigger man, significantly more muscular.
It is the product of extra work in the offseason, and it made his 24:33 time on ice against an offensive juggernaut of a lineup feel routine.
“I definitely put in a lot of hours,” Larkin said, of an offseason conditioning routine. “I added a sixth day of the week instead of five.
“It was commitment, but it feels good to have the success early.
“I played a lot of minutes last night, I think my most ever in hockey.”
The narrow loss, in a game the Wings played well enough to win, provided a good test of Larkin’s increased conditioning.
“I felt fine,” he said. “It felt like nothing, and I feel good today.
“So, that’s when you know, I guess, that you’re in good shape.”
Some might look at the scoresheet and think the evening unremarkable.
No goals. No assists. No shots on goal, with three attempts missing the target.
But Larkin was everywhere.
With Jeff Blashill shaking up the lines, in part, to counter the Lightning’s three potent offensive units — a strategy the Red Wings will likely employ against the offensively powerful Maple Leafs Wednesday — both Larkin and Anthony Mantha were asked to play a lot of defense against talented attackers.
Neither of the Wings’ young, potential stars scored.
But they also yielded no goals against with Larkin and Mantha on the ice.
Normally Henrik Zetterberg leads the forwards in minutes, often by two or three.
But against the Lightning, Zetterberg played 20:53, 3:40 less than Larkin and only 18 seconds more than Mantha.
The Red Wings are evolving
Meanwhile, with a 61 percent success rate, Larkin won a third of the Wings’ faceoffs on their way to a 14 percent advantage over the Lightning.
Larkin’s emerging success in the circle also is a product of extra work.
Beyond repeated faceoffs in practice, he watches lots of video.
“Last year, I was studying players and what their tendencies were,” he said. “But now with the rule changes, I have been studying a lot of myself, and what seems to be working for me.
“If I get a couple of faceoffs early in the game, I feel better in the circle.”
After six games, he leads the team with a 55.45 faceoff percentage.
Larkin also is savvy enough to discern how changing the rules for faceoffs affected him.
“You know what? I guess it’s helped,” he said.
“It’s like the old-school way was, you’re just going for the puck. Now, you’re not worried about what your opponent is going to do, because you can’t really do much.
“So you’re just trying really to focus on the puck and being ready for it to be dropped.”
Larkin is also emerging as an ace penalty killer, a skill that is bound to improve his defensive game 5-on-5.
And, after six games, the Red Wing have the fifth-most efficient penalty kill at 89.3 percent entering play Wednesday.
“It’s real good that he plays in all situations. It can only help him,” Zetterberg said. “He’s smart. He skates well. He’s good at reading plays.”
As for his conditioning, Zetterberg said Larkin could play even longer.
“He can probably play 34 minutes, and it doesn’t really matter,” the captain said. “He’s in great shape.
“And his stride is so easy and simple, he can be out there forever.”
Blashill has said it the acceleration in Larkin’s development kicked in the last 25 games and moved through the Ice Hockey World Championship, where Larkin made plays all over the ice.
He tallied two goals and eight assists in eight games, and garnered a plus-7 rating.
“He’s playing a complete game and doing things that help a hockey team win,” Blashill said. “He’s just become a real complete player.
“The one thing with Dylan is he can skate. He doesn’t seem to tire out.
“I didn’t think he was fatigued at all as the game went along.”
Larkin felt, even the next day, like his body told him there was little exceptional to his exceptional game.
When asked about all of the extra work, Larkin talks about it like something he has always done, something he enjoys and something he just figures is part of the deal.
“It’s kind of a preparation for me being ready to play,” he said, as a matter of fact.
As for the start of the season, the bona fide rink rat cautioned against undue optimism.
“It’s still early,” Larkin said. “But in terms of being better on the things I wanted to work on, the power play, faceoffs, penalty kill, definitely there’s been some early success.
“Still, a long way to go, though.”