Red Wings brace for back-to-back challenges out of holiday break

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — The holiday break is over. It's time to get back to work.

At least for the NHL it is, and for the Red Wings, that means games Thursday in Pittsburgh and Saturday in Dallas.

Head coach Jeff Blashill and the Red Wings are 1-4-2 in their last seven games.

Two good teams, on the road, and coming off a three-day break without any practices or games. It doesn’t sound easy, particularly for a Red Wings team that is 1-4-2 in its last seven games.

But the Wings had a very good Toronto team beaten until the final eight seconds Sunday, watching the Leafs tie the game then win in overtime.

The Wings did everything in that game, but win. They’ve done that a lot against the best teams, basically playing up (or down) to the level of the opponent.

They’ll have to be up to the level, immediately coming out of this break.

“Sometimes it’s a good reminder of the type of game it takes to be successful,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “This (Sunday’s loss) was a great reminder. We are going to go on the road after Christmas and play a couple of real good teams. We’re going to have to play this same style.”

Said forward Frans Nielsen: “For some reason, against the best teams, we usually play our best hockey. We really raise our own game.”

The Red Wings played fast and aggressive, were quick out of the defensive zone, and received scoring from unlikely sources (Filip Hronek, Christoffer Ehn, Michael Rasmussen) in Toronto.

It was a formula for success that usually works.

If they duplicate it again, it very well could be successful.

“We feel in here that when we’re on our game, we can play with anybody,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “We’ve shown that over the course of the year. But we have to do it every night, not just against some teams.”

Net presence

Rasmussen ended a 17-game goal-scoring drought by scoring against the Leafs, redirecting a shot by Dylan Larkin.

It was another example of Rasmussen’s ability around the net, using his 6-foot-6, 220-pound body to torment opposing goalies.

“That’s what he’s special at,” Blashill said of Rasmussen’s net-front ability. “That is where he excels. He’s got great net-front ability and that’s where he’s going to score a good amount of goals in this league. He’s a good, solid player everywhere else, but he’s excellent around the net.

“He’s been a part of other goals where he doesn’t  get a point, but you don’t score it without him because of how big a net presence he has. The Kronwall goal on the power play, in Carolina, was one of them.

“He’s playing good hockey. He just needs to continue on the path.”

More: Red Wings' Blashill pleased with Michael Rasmussen's development, despite growing pains

Injury update

The Wings might be getting forward Darren Helm (upper body) back in the lineup at some point on this road trip.

Blashill said Helm might take part in the pregame skates, and is “on the radar” to return.

Helm appeared to hurt his elbow early in the Nov. 17 game in New Jersey, and hasn’t played since.

Forward Andreas Athanasiou missed the last two games before the break because of an upper-body issue, and his status is day-to-day.

Defensemen Danny DeKeyser (upper body) and Mike Green (upper body), and forward Anthony Mantha (hand) are expected to return shortly after the new year.

Red Wings at Penguins

Faceoff: 7 p.m. Thursday, Thursday, PPG Paints Arena, Pittsburgh

TV/radio: Fox Sports Detroit/97.1 FM

Outlook: The Penguins (18-12-6, 42 points) have won three consecutive games and seven of their last 10 (7-2-1). … This will be the first game between the teams this season. … Captains Sidney Crosby (16 goals, 41 points) and Evgeni Malkin (26 assists, 37 points) continue to dominate.

Twitter: @tkulfan