Newark, N.J. — This hasn’t been a satisfying season for Darren Helm in one big way.
That is, the Red Wings have been losing at a pace like no other during Helm’s 13-year career with the organization.
This is a player who was a Red Wing during a Stanley Cup championship, during successful seasons that produced long playoff runs, when missing the playoffs seemed impossible.
But the Wings are on their way to missing a fourth consecutive postseason, and this season are likely to have the NHL’s worst record.
By a mile.
“Compared to all the other ones (seasons), it’s got to be the worst one I’ve been part of,” Helm said after he scored both goals Tuesday in a 3-2 loss in Buffalo. “It's hard for everybody. Old guy, young guy, it’s not easy to be in this situation.”
But with all those losses — Tuesday’s was the Wings’ 40th in 58 games (14-40-4) — Helm still sees a positive trait that will help the organization going forward.
“It’s a good thing that we’re still working pretty hard, we’re still coming out with some energy,” Helm said. “It doesn’t always go great for us, but we’re still competing hard.
"We know the situation we're in, but there's a lot of pride in putting on the jersey. Guys have respect for that jersey, the organization. Things aren't going great but guys are taking pride in wearing the winged wheel and we want to do the best we can."
Part of the reason is because Helm, one of the quiet leaders and veterans on this evolving roster, has shown the way with his performance on and off the ice.
Helm returned to the lineup Tuesday after missing two games with an undisclosed injury, and meshed well on a line with Anthony Mantha (who played his first game since Dec. 21) and Dylan Larkin.
“Our line had some energy and I was able to find a way to get some decent forechecks and couple of goals,” Helm said.
Helm has eight goals and six assists (14 points) in 55 games, with a minus-2 rating (best in the lineup). At age 33, Helm is having one of his best all-around seasons in recent years.
“Helm has a good year when you look at it,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “He scores his seventh and eighth goals, moved to minus-2, which on our team, when you get to comparisons, it’s a pretty good number.
“He works, he competes every night, he competes every shift, been more physical probably this year than the last couple of years. He creates offense out of his speed and compete and he’s good defensively because of that.
“He’s had a good year.”
Another successful return
Like Helm, Mantha returned with an impact.
Mantha hadn’t played since puncturing his lung Dec. 21, but stepped right into the fray with two assists — he set up Helm on both goals — and had four shots and was plus-2 in in just under 20 minutes (19:36) of ice time.
“It feels good to get right in the mix,” Mantha said. “I played a lot of minutes, so hopefully it comes back quick.”
Hoping for a big finish in these final 24 games, Mantha said, both from a team and individual aspect, would be a satisfying way to enter the summer and into next training camp.
“Play great hockey for these 20-something games, maybe a goal would be a point-a-game until the end of the season,” Mantha said. “That’s personal, but like I said (after Tuesday’s morning skate), getting some wins together for next (season), that would be great.”
Blashill was excited about the way Mantha returned to the lineup, and what Mantha could provide the Wings these final two months of the season.
“It was good to have Anthony back playing at that level,” Blashill said. “When he plays at that level, he’s one of the better players in the league. He’s hard to handle. He has a unique skill set of size, speed, hands, shooting, passing.
“If he can keep playing at that level, it makes us a way better hockey team.”
Perlini escapes serious injury
The Wings didn’t practice Wednesday, but there’s expected to be an update on forward Brendan Perlini’s condition at Thursday’s morning skate.
Perlini suffered a deep facial laceration around his nose and just under his eye during Tuesday’s first period against Buffalo when Sabres defenseman Henri Jokiharju’s skates brushed Perlini’s face during a collision along the boards.
Perlini declined to be interviewed after the game, but added he was grateful the injury wasn’t worse and the skate missed his eyes.
Blashill didn’t have a timeline on how long Perlini could be out of the lineup. But Blashill and Perlini’s teammates were thankful Perlini escaped something worse.
“Anytime you see skates coming up, it’s scary,” Helm said. “That’s a risk we’re all taking. Everybody’s had a close call, or had something similar to that happen. You just have to find a way to shrug it off and keep going.
“He’s a tough guy and hopefully he’ll be back soon.”
Red Wings at Devils
► Faceoff: 7 p.m. Thursday, Prudential Center, Newark, New Jersey
► TV/radio: Fox Sports Detroit/97.1 FM
► Outlook: The Devils (20-25-10) have muddled through an underwhelming season after big preseason expectations. … RW Kyle Palmieri (21 goals) might be a big trade chip before the deadline, while C Jack Hughes (seven goals, 20 points) has shown glimpses of potential after being the No. 1 overall pick.