Larkin going through difficult 'growth experience' in dreary Red Wings season

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit – Dylan Larkin goes at it hard, every game, every shift.

But the way this Detroit Red Wings season has gone, maybe no one would blame him if he let up every once in a while.

Dylan Larkin

Give Larkin credit, though. With the Red Wings down multiple goals, he’s still doggedly pursuing the puck all over the ice, attempting to create offense, that competitive nature coming through game after game.

“You look around the room, and there’s a guy (Larkin) right there that I don’t think has taken one shift off,” said forward Darren Helm, a veteran who has been through many highs and lows during his 13 seasons with the Red Wings.

“He competes hard,” Helm said. “He shows he wants to win and that’s the kind of leadership we need right now.”

The Wings are losing – their winless streak reached 10 games Monday night – and they aren’t scoring. Individually, Larkin isn’t scoring either, at least not at the pace of last season, and that has contributed to the team’s troubles.

When you look at the offensive statistics – Monday’s goal was Larkin’s first in 10 games, and his 18 points are down 10 from the same juncture last season – Larkin’s season has been lagging.

“I didn’t feel like I was playing my best to help this team,” said Larkin after Monday’s game, when he ended a nine-game scoring drought. “I wasn’t driving the play like I’m used to.”

Coach Jeff Blashill prefers to look at Larkin’s two-way game, Larkin’s defensive work, and the fact that at age 23, Larkin continues to mature and grow into the type of player on and off the ice that will be a foundation piece for the Wings’ organization.

This brutal season team-wise is something Larkin could grow from substantially.

“When you’re in real hard experiences, real hard times as a professional athlete, or professional team, those are growth experiences, and they’re hard,” Blashill said. “They’re very difficult. It’s not easy to come out here every day and answer questions of why we haven’t been good enough.

Tyler Bertuzzi

“But there’s a growth process that goes along with that and there’s no doubt Dylan has grown throughout that, no doubt. He’s learned from this experience, you learn to handle frustration, you learn how to keep a steady rudder, not too high or too low, when things aren’t going your way.

“You work through the emotion of it and figure out what’s wrong and try to make it right.”

Larkin’s line with Tyler Bertuzzi and Anthony Mantha exploded the opening weekend of the season, collecting 16 total points in just two games.

The pace lessened as opponents learned that Larkin’s line was the Wings’ lone consistent offensive threat, but the three remain atop the Wings’ scoring leaders – Bertuzzi with 24 points (10 goals, 14 assists), the injured Mantha (12 goals, 11 assists) and Larkin (seven goals, 11 assists).

“Offensively, most nights, their line has all the chances for us,” Blashill said. “They’ve generated the chances, they’re just not going in quite as much. That’s the way it goes sometimes. That’s why it’s really important to have a great two-way game, so that when it’s not going in, you can still find ways to win.

“The challenge that Dylan has, is he wants this and we want him to become a great, great two-way center. A guy who is great defensively, so that even when you are not producing offense, you’re still doing a real good job of eliminating the other team’s offense.

“It’s a learning process and he’s still getting better at that area.”

Blashill doesn’t think Larkin’s self-evaluation is accurate.

“He started the year great, he was playing great, great hockey,” Blashill said. “He’s gone through stretches of playing great hockey. I don’t know if it’s been, probably like anything else, the highs and lows are never as bad as you feel.”

Larkin believes he has been partly responsible for the Wings’ current winless streak. As much as the individual statistics have bothered Larkin, it’s the losing that has troubled him most.

“We haven’t been producing and haven’t been winning,” Larkin said. “We can’t keep this up.”

Before the season, Larkin was confident this was going to be a team that could surprise the NHL and the quick 3-1-0 start further fueled optimism.

But it’s been a steady stream of losses ever since, sapping energy out of the Wings’ locker room.

Larkin felt it was important this week, during a four-day break between games, for the Wings’ to regain some of that positive energy and enthusiasm.

“You only get to play in the NHL for so long,” Larkin said. “Not everyone gets an opportunity to be a Detroit Red Wing, so you have to take that with pride, but you should also enjoy it.

“It’s something that right now, in a season where there’s not much fun, we need to remember and find a way to come to the rink and enjoy it.”

Twitter: @tkulfan