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Red Wings' Dylan Larkin gets off to a roaring start, despite disjointed season

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — How good has Dylan Larkin been offensively this season?

To put it in perspective, Larkin's goal Saturday in Arizona was his ninth of the season.

Red Wings center Dylan Larkin has nine goals in 16 games this season, after scoring nine in 44 games last season.

Last season — and, yes, there were variables such as a shortened NHL season because of the pandemic and Larkin's injury late in the season that forced him to miss games — he scored all of nine goals in 44 games.

Larkin matched that mark Saturday in only his 16th game.

Talking in training camp, there was a determination and resolve in Larkin's voice to smash last season's meager offensive numbers.

He's accomplishing that, early on.

"He felt like he has more to offer and he has played really good this year when he’s played," coach Jeff Blashill said.

That's another part to the puzzle.

It's not like Larkin has been available each and every night this season

The NHL gave Larkin a one-game suspension after his sucker-punching of Tampa Bay's Mathieu Joseph, after Joseph rammed Larkin into the boards opening night.

Then, earlier this month, Larkin away from the team for three games dealing with a family emergency.

And last week, Larkin missed one period of a game in Dallas dealing with a false-positive COVID-19 test. Larkin returned for the next game, but dealing with that news made for a frustrating 24 hours.

"It’s not been that easy,” Blashill said. “It’s been a lot of stops and starts in terms of the games he’s been in, and the games he hasn’t been able to play. He’s done a really good job of staying focused on what he can control and that’s his effort level,  his output in games, and he’s done a good job.”

Larkin had 23 points (14 assists) in 44 games last season. He has seven assists this season, for 16 points in 16 games, a point-per-game average.

Larkin's best offensive season was 2018-19, when he totaled 32 goals and 41 assists, for 73 points — career-highs in both goals and points.

The way Larkin has clicked with linemates Tyler Bertuzzi and Lucas Raymond, and as long as Larkin and his linemates can stay healthy, Larkin appears capable of closing in on those statistics.

“We all can think the game,” Larkin said of the trio. “Having Lucas’ great shot, him being a righty, that’s really sparking us. He can really see the ice. He can move the puck. He’s someone for Tyler and me to look for when we’re on our forehand. We all look to make plays. We all want to get right on the puck."

When Larkin returned to the lineup last week after the COVID scare, Larkin talked about how the disappointment of last season somewhat has helped his approach to the game.

"The highs and lows of this league, they're pretty dramatic at times especially if you let them," Larkin said. "At times, I've really let them get to me. This year, I've really worked on not letting that happen and whether it's going well or not, or other things have come into your life and take you out of the lineup for a week, or you can't play in the third period, I'm just trying not to let it get to me and be grateful I'm here.

"I was really hoping when I came back after the time away (for the family emergency), I was really hoping to have all that in the past and try to move forward. I'm looking forward to doing that and continue to play and be there for the guys and play real hard and that's what I've been trying to do. Not worry about whether pucks are going in, worried most about the team, and playing a good game."

Sustaining pressure

The Red Wings return to practice Tuesday, getting the rare opportunity for a full practice and having a couple of days off to recover from a rugged, non-stop recent schedule.

One area they'll go over, although it's more mental and through experience rather than a drill, is learning how to play with a lead.

The Wings twice gave away leads on the recent four-game road trip, and let three out of a possible four points disappear.

“It’s a matter of learning how to sustain offensive zone pressure without taking unneeded risk,” Blashill said. “That’s a balancing act. If you turn a bunch of pucks over, you’re giving up unneeded chances when you don’t have to. But we didn’t have enough sustained pressure, I didn’t think.”

On Saturday in Arizona, the Wings felt they had chance to extend their lead against the Coyotes but didn't capitalize.

"When we get a lead, late in games, 10 minutes, we can’t panic, we can’t sit back and defend for 20 minutes," Larkin said. "We have to play some offense and play smart. You can’t win games very much, 1-0.”

Twitter: @tkulfan