Dylan Larkin's confidence soaring with recent offensive surge for Red Wings
Detroit — The NHL, including the Red Wings, are on a holiday pause right now. The COVID spread expedited things a bit, but at this point, everyone would be getting into the holiday spirit on the schedule, regardless.
But, when the Wings were still active Saturday, defeating New Jersey 5-2, you may remember one pertinent detail stood out: The three-goal game by Dylan Larkin.
Just when the Wings needed him, Larkin put in another dazzling performance, something he's been doing fairly regularly this season.
The hat trick — Larkin's first in the NHL — gave him 15 goals (along with 14 assists) for 29 points in 27 games. The 15 goals lead the Wings, and Larkin's 14 assists trail only rookie sensations Moritz Seider and Lucas Raymond, who each have 18.
Larkin's 15 goals also tie him for 10th in the NHL, along with Sebastian Aho (Carolina) and Jake Guentzel (Pittsburgh).
Coming off what was a disappointing and frustrating season that ended with a frightful injury, this rebound season, of sorts, is bringing satisfaction for Larkin, who has found terrific chemistry on a line with Tyler Bertuzzi and Raymond.
"Having Tyler and Lucas there helps a lot," Larkin said. "I know I'm going to get chances. We create a lot, we play the right way. It gives me confidence to get into a rhythm."
Last season's shortened schedule was a struggle for Larkin.
Seeing Bertuzzi go down after the first month with an injury that resulted in back surgery, and then linemate Anthony Mantha go into an immediate slump and ultimately getting traded away, and a revolving door of linemates, then a season-ending injury when Dallas forward Jamie Benn crosschecked Larkin in the neck area off a faceoff all took a toll on Larkin.
Larkin wound up with nine goals and 14 assists (23 points) and wasn't the usual offensive threat he's been since entering the NHL.
It's a complete reversal this winter, with Larkin playing with confidence and swagger when the puck is on his stick.
"I just feel confident with the puck. There have been times, a couple of weeks ago, where I wasn't feeling confident," Larkin said. "Now, it's come back a little bit here, and things are going well, and we need to keep playing the right way to create those chances."
Now, this season hasn't gone completely smoothly, either.
Larkin was suspended for a game after sucker-punching Tampa's Mathieu Joseph — after Joseph had boarded Larkin — and Larkin missed a week in November for personal reasons. Larkin also was pulled from a game after two periods after testing positive for COVID-19 — only to find out it was a "false-positive" the next day.
Through it all, Larkin has persevered.
“It’s not been easy," coach Jeff Blashill said. "It has been a lot of stops and starts in terms of games he’s been in and not 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 and his output in games.”
One thing last season did teach Larkin was controlling only what a person can control, and attempting to let go of the stuff you can't.
“The highs and lows of this league, they’re pretty dramatic at times,” Larkin said after the COVID scare. “Especially if you let them, and at times I feel like I’ve really let them get to me. This year I really worked on not letting that happen, whether it’s going well or it’s not.
"Whether things come into your life and take you out of the lineup for a week, or you can’t play a third period, I’m really just trying not to let it get to me and be grateful that I’m here.”
Still no word on when the Wings will practice — they can begin Sunday — or the status for Monday's game in New York against the Rangers. The Wings currently have 11 players on the COVID list, along with coach Jeff Blashill and assistant Alex Tanguay, and how many individuals come off the list before Monday will be crucial.
... One of the more unheralded aspects of Saturday's victory, with the Wings shorthanded and scrambling to fill a lineup, was the play of Jordan Oesterle.
Normally a defenseman, Oesterle moved to a wing in the game with the team short on forwards, and played 10 minutes 25 seconds with three shots on net. Oesterle's willingness and ability to play the other position wasn't overlooked by teammates or the coaching staff.
“Jordan Oesterle playing forward we needed him in a crunch and he did great," Larkin said.
Grand Rapids Griffins coach Ben Simon, who filled in for Blashill on Saturday, said the Oesterle move was made when Filip Zadina (COVID protocol) was put on the list just before game time.
"We moved Oesterle up to the wing and he did a good of filling in, and giving meaningful minutes," Simon said.
... Simon is pleased with the progress of prospect Jonatan Berggren in Grand Rapids. The young forward has seven goals and 10 assists (17 points) in 23 games for the Griffins.
"Bergie is coming along," Simon said. "The biggest thing for me with Jonatan is you're seeing growth and improvement. From Day One he came down here, we knew it was going to be an acclimation period because he's in a different country, a different-sized (ice) sheet, different city, different language and coaches.
"He's getting acclimated. He's got his feet under him now, and from a hockey point of view, his way, way more competitive on a consistent basis. He's going north with the puck and learning how to manage the puck better, making plays quicker and more consistently, so that is extremely encouraging for a young player. If you keep doing that, and keeping going, you just have to make sure you're ready for the call (from the Wings) when it does come."