Kanata, Ontario – The Detroit Red Wings begin many of their team meetings with video clips from their most recent game, with highlights of puck battles and players who had the biggest physical impact.
It’s noteworthy that, according to coach Jeff Blashill, many of those videos feature forward Darren Helm.
“What Helmer has done tons is, you have a puck race and who is going to win the puck race? He’s really showed up physically,” said Blashill after Thursday’s morning skate. “Not necessarily the big hits, but winning all those loose puck races.”
And make no mistake, that’s crucial to any team’s success, because if you win the race to the puck and control it, you have an opportunity to create offense.
“The difference in the game is who has the puck the most," Blashill said. "You have to win puck races and battles, and Helmer is a big influence on that. That’s why he’s playing on (Dylan) Larkin’s line, to get in on the forecheck, and for his net presence. He wins tons of pucks.”
Helm will be 32 in January, and he’s in his 12th season with the Wings. He continues to do many of the things that don't appear on the scoresheet but go a long way toward victories.
The first month if this season was a struggle, said Helm, as the Wings began 1-7-2. But now they’ve won five straight, heading into Thursday night’s game in Ottawa, and are 8-8-2.
“There were a lot of games we were the better team and just couldn’t find ways to win,” Helm said of the early-season losses. “Now we’ve been able to find a few ways to win without being the better team. We have to find a way to manage that aspect of the game a little better, we need to play a full 60 (minutes) and find ways to win that game.”
Playing on a line with Larkin and Anthony Mantha, Helm is invaluable for his willingness to do the dirty work and get the puck to the offensive players.
“Try to be a little more physical and opening up ice for those two guys,” said Helm. “Get in front and do the things I have to do to be successful.
“When I’m a little more physical, I’m forcing myself to work a little bit harder, and when I’m working harder, opportunities for puck luck happen,” Helm said. “I feel like I’m a guy that has to work hard to get some puck luck and that’s what I have to keep doing.”
Filip Zadina had two goals in Wednesday’s 6-3 matinee victory for Grand Rapids over Rockford, Zadina’s third two-goal game this season.
He has six goals and four assists in 14 games, with a team-worst minus-7 rating.
Blashill said again Thursday the Wings will not be recalling their 2018 first-round draft pick until he’s ready to stay in the NHL permanently.
“I talked to (general manager) Ken Holland this morning, he was at the game, and (Holland) said it was the best game he (Zadina) had played,” Blashill said. “It’s a good step in the right direction. It’s a roller-coaster and you hope it keeps trending in the positive direction.
“We will not bring Filip Zadina up until Filip Zadina is ready to be a full-time NHL impact player. We need Filip Zadina ultimately to be an elite player, and the best way to do that is not to bring him into a situation where he could potentially lose confidence. He’s just starting to gain confidence. Let him be and gain confidence and hope to keep going in the right direction.
“Whenever Filip Zadina is a superstar in the American League, that’s when he should come up and play. Is that a month, or two years, or in a year, I can’t answer that question. But what I do know, what you never want to do, is bring someone up before they’re ready to make an impact.”
Blashill said there’s been no organizational decision as to whether Zadina (Czech Republic), or Michael Rasmussen (Canada), will be allowed to participate in the world junior championships in late December.
Niklas Kronwall is one of several Wings who remarked how different it would be facing Ottawa without star defenseman Erik Karlsson.
The Senators traded Karlsson before the season began to San Jose.
“It’s a different dynamic,” Kronwall said. “They have a young guy in (Thomas) Chabot who has been playing out of his mind so far and seems to be picking up where Erik left off, and they have some interesting players. (But) it’s different.”
… It was an interesting day around the NHL, specifically the Atlantic Division, with injuries to Tampa goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy and Boston defenseman Zdeno Chara.
The Bruins have four of their top six defenseman injured – mirroring the Wings’ plight at the start of the season.
“One thing you can count on, everyone in the league is going to go through stretches when they have tough travel schedules, everybody is going to go through stretches when they have injuries, and those things find a way to even themselves out,” Blashill said. “For us, the biggest focus is ourselves and finding ways to make sure we keep improving. We haven’t had our full team yet. We have to make sure we win as many games as we can, and when we get everyone back going, hopefully we’re that much a better team.”