Detroit — “U.S. Thanksgiving” used to provide an NHL gauge for the Red Wings, as perennial Stanley Cup contenders, to begin discerning their likely opponents in the first round of the playoffs.
Until a few seasons ago, the holiday provided the first benchmark of the season for the chances of extending the playoff streak.
These days, there is less to consider.
When it comes to developing younger players and rebuilding the lineup, Thanksgiving is more about the turkey and the stuffing than the standings.
Entering play Tuesday five points out of the playoffs, the day before Detroit's 21st game of the season and the last game before Thanksgiving, the Red Wings have righted their ship.
Players in the room will tell you they fully intend to defy the nearly universal assertion they cannot make the playoffs.
They seem a long shot at best, and a folly at worst.
Clearly, a rebuilding lineup should not restock in pursuit of the 2019 playoffs when rebuilding the roster is likely to take a few more seasons.
Management asserts that the playoffs would bring new development opportunities at a heightened level on competition for Andreas Athanasiou, Tyler Bertuzzi, Dennis Cholowski, Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha and Michael Rasmussen.
And, who knows, perhaps for Filip Zadina, if he makes the NHL roster.
“This league is such that at the beginning of the year, any team can be a playoff team,” coach Jeff Blashill said.
“We see it every year: Teams can surprise.
“Why not us? So, that is where I was, at the start of the season.”
In the past six games, four two-goal comebacks have instilled confidence.
“It’s been an interesting stretch,” Blashill said. “I think confidence is a huge thing.
“At the beginning of the year, we talked about if certain pieces continue to take steps, we’re going to be a real good hockey team. And, in the last 10 games, I think those people have taken steps.
“If they continue to do it, we’ll continue to be a better team. So, we’ll see.”
Darren Helm did not put up a lot of points during the first 20 games of the season. But, the Red Wings will miss his energy.
And they will require contributions to attend to his penalty killing and forechecking tasks.
“I think everybody’s so close talent-wise that lots of times the one way you can separate yourself as a team or as a player is through your work ethic and competition, and that’s what he embodies,” Blashill said of Helm. “That’s what he is.
“That’s why he’s been a real good player, and that’s why he helps us win hockey games.
“Certainly, disappointing that he’s going to be out for a while; disappointing for him given the history of the injuries that he’s had."
Before playing in all the games this season and missing just seven last season, Helm missed 32 games in 2016-17, 40 in 2013-14 and 81 in 2012-13.
Thomas Vanek could return against the Bruins but will be a game-day decision, Blashill said.
Vanek has two goals and three assists, appearing in 12 of the 20 games the Red Wings have played.
He has missed eight games since a knee-on-knee hit in open ice against the Blue Jackets on Oct. 30.
Jonathan Ericsson, who was hurt in a postgame workout on Nov. 1, will be unavailable, Blashill said.
Cholowski appeared injured towards the end of practice Tuesday. But Blashill said he expects the 20-year-old rookie to play Wednesday.
Cholowski leads the defensemen in scoring and, averaging 20:13 per game, is third behind Mike Green (21:41) and Danny DeKeyser (20:36) in time on ice.
Helm’s absence will likely provide Bertuzzi with some time killing penalties.
“I did a little bit in juniors,” Bertuzzi said of his days with Guelph of the Ontario Hockey League.
“I’ve been at all the meetings, watching video on it. I’m a little familiar with it, and I’ve just got to do the reps at practice.”
Bertuzzi, who is fourth on the team in scoring with 11 points (five goals, six assists) and has a minus-1 rating, said he understands a penalty killer’s tasks.
“Just stay poised,” he said. “You’ve got to be smart and have a good stick, and not get running around. Just stay composed.”
Red Wings vs. Bruins
Faceoff: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit
Outlook: If the Red Wings had a revenge tour, it would include the Bruins and Canadiens. The 8-2 loss in Boston on Oct. 13, followed by the 7-3 loss in Montreal on Oct. 15, were the nadir of the first quarter of the season. But now, the Wings will seek a sixth win in seven games… The Bruins will be without Patrice Bergeron (collar bone, breast bone, ribs) and Zdeno Chara (left knee), while defensemen Charlie McAvoy (concussion) and Urho Vaakanainen (concussion) are doubtful, and defenseman Kevan Miller (left hand) may return.