Detroit — So, what exactly was Dylan Larkin thinking as he wandered out of the penalty box Saturday, was all by himself, and was moments from a potential breakaway attempt on Florida goalie Sergei Bobrovsky?
Actually, Larkin was trying to keep his mind clear.
“I wasn’t thinking much. Helmer (Darren Helm) made a great pass,” Larkin said of Helm’s pass that sprung Larkin free for his goal, the 100th of his young career. “I knew he was at the end of a shift. He ripped that thing. I was just trying to stay onside and I had to get on my horse to make sure that the defenseman coming back wasn’t going to catch me.
“Great play by Helmer.”
Larkin’s goal was the only Wings’ score in a 4-1 loss to Florida.
The milestone goal was one of the few bright spots in what was still a rather enjoyable, physical, chippy Saturday night battle at Little Caesars Arena.
Larkin became the sixth Wings player in the last 40 years to record his 100th career goal before the age of 24.
Larkin is the second youngest of the group, at 23 years and five months — Steve Yzerman scored his 100th goal at 21 years and eight months.
“It’s a dream to score a goal in the NHL, and I’m just in a good spot there (coming out of the penalty box),” Larkin said. “I’ve been pretty fortunate to play with good players in my career. Hopefully there’s a lot more.
“It doesn’t feel great right now (after a loss), but it’s good to get.”
Larkin was one of the Wings’ best forwards against Florida, playing more than 24 minutes (24:16), winning 19-of-28 faceoffs, and being credited with one takeaway and one blocked shot.
Coach Jeff Blashill has watched Larkin continue to evolve into one of the NHL’s better two-way centers, capable of making a difference either at the offensive or defensive end.
Blashill identified two areas where Larkin has taken his overall game forward.
“His offensive skill set has gotten better because of how hard he works at it, both through the season and in the summer,” Blashill said. “Not just scoring, but passing and the little plays he makes with the puck, things like that.
“The other area he’s really improved is his two-way game. There’s times where he’s been one of the better two-way players in the league. I’ve taken him to the world championships (Blashill coached Team USA) and played him against some of the best players in the world, and he’s done a good job of matching in those situations.”
What Blashill is pleased about most is Larkin’s desire of not being satisfied.
“The important thing for Dylan is he keeps getting better and the thing that is going to allow that to happen is he knows that and he keeps working at it,” Blashill said.
Forward Luke Glendening has noticed the same characteristic with Larkin.
“Every year he comes to camp more determined to be a better player than he was the last year,” Glendening said. “It’s great to watch. He does it right.”
Not backing down
Both games over the weekend, against the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Panthers, were chippy games that forced the Wings to play physical, and stand up for themselves and teammates.
To the Wings’ credit, given their last-place standing and not much to play for, they did.
“Good,” goaltender Jimmy Howard said of the Wings’ grit. “You have to stick up for yourself in this league. It’s always fun when the game is a little bit on edge out there.”
Since coming out of the Christmas break, Blashill has tried to emphasize the physical part of the game.
“We’ve really concentrated and focused on our physicality, different things to try to embrace that physicality, and we’ve been way better at that,” Blashill said. “When it’s a physical game, it just draws you into the fight a little more, draws the emotion into the game a little more.
“It brings the temperature of the game up and that’s a great thing for us.”
Blashill is pleased with how the Wings have reacted from a competitive standpoint.
“We’re not going to limp through and play these games, we’re going to fight like crazy to win every night,” Blashill said. “We’re going to fight like crazy to get better every night.”
The Wings lost forward Valtteri Filppula (lower body) early in Saturday’s game, but Blashill was optimistic Filppula could return for Monday’s game in Colorado.
… The Wings were 0-for-7 on the power play against the Panthers, attempting to do too much instead of keeping it simple, Blashill said.
“We overcomplicated it,” Blashill said. “We have to take what’s given, make those plays and create chaos through the slot, make sure we have a net presence.
“We have to stick to that formula and we didn’t.”
… Howard said seeing, and stopping, some shots early in games has helped turn around his performances lately.
“You sort of get into the rhythm of the game,” Howard said. “I’ve been fortunate for that the last couple (games). The guys did a great job in front of me.”
Red Wings at Colorado
► Faceoff: 3 p.m. Monday, Pepsi Center, Denver
► TV/radio: FSD/97.1 FM
► Outlook: Colorado (27-15-6) is second in the Central Division and has won back-to-back games after going through a slump. … C Nathan MacKinnon is putting together an MVP-caliber season (28 goals, 70 points) and D Cale Makar (35 points) is a Rookie of the Year candidate.