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Notes: Darren Helm returns to lineup against Buffalo

Thomas Vanek has seven-game point streak going, has fit in well with Wings

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji /

As expected, Darren Helm will return to the lineup tonight in Buffalo.

Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill made it official to reporters in Buffalo after the team's morning skate.

"Feeling like I can be out there, be part of the team," Helm told "Obviously that's what I want to be doing. Excited to finally get an opportunity to get back out there and looking forward to it."

Helm has missed the last 28 games with a dislocated left shoulder but has been practicing with the team, upping the contact in recent weeks.

"I could practice all year long the way I felt but last couple weeks were just really focused on bumping around a little bit, just getting comfortable, feeling out how it's going to play throughout a game," Helm said. "We kind of eased into it and got a little rougher and rougher as the weeks went on. I definitely feel like we're in a spot now when we can go."

When Helm started the season, he centered a successful line with Thomas Vanek and Gustav Nyquist.

For now, the Wings plan to ease him back in on the fourth line with Luke Glendening and Justin Abdelkader.

"I don't know if I can say right now how he's going to play," Blashill told "So, I got to watch and see how he feels out there. Obviously, it's been a long stretch here. The one thing good here with Darren is he only knows one way to play, and that's fast and hard and competitive. So, I'm sure he'll play that way and then I got to make sure I manage his minutes properly and get him the ice time that he deserves."

Helm said he'll lean on Glendening and Abdelkader a little bit as he gets back in the swing of things but wants the line to be effective.

"With those experienced guys, smart defensively, it should be a little bit easier jumping back in," Helm said. "I think hard work and some energy, getting pucks deep and try and grind down the other team. I think we can be three pretty effective forecheckers and bang some bodies and hopefully get the puck around the net a little bit. Defensively as well, I think we can be pretty good."

Although Helm won't be where he was when he got hurt, Blashill expects him to make a difference.

"We said at the beginning of the year we said two of the things we wanted to be as a hockey team are relentless and fast. He embodies that," Blashill said. "I thought he had an excellent start to the year. It was obviously unfortunate he got hurt, but we all deal with it, every team and a lot of individuals. The good thing with him is he's such a skater and such a competitor that when he gets back into the lineup after a long layoff I expect him to be pretty good."

VANEK'S STEADY: When Vanek is healthy, he can produce offense unlike many players in the league.

Vanek currently has a seven-game point streak with five goals and five assists in that span.

"He's brought it all season," Blashill said. "Everyone in Buffalo knows he's a real talented offensive player, The thing he brings to our table is he's got size and we don't have lots of guys with that type of size and skills combination. He's scored goals, he's made plays. What I've liked about him is he's been a big-time winner. He's played the right way the majority of time. When he hasn't, he's held himself accountable. He wants to win more than anything else. I think he's been excellent for us, he's an excellent leader for some of our young players. He's made sure they've held themselves accountable. He's been a real bright spot for us."

Vanek had options but chose to come to Detroit.

"I think it's just a fit," Vanek told "Every team plays a little bit different. Again, I think for me it's been a good situation. I've said it even after I left Minny, I can still play in this league and play at a high level and be effective. I talked to a few teams and Detroit is one of them that kind of saw me as a good fit and so far so good."

Vanek has found a nice fit on a line with Frans Nielsen and Andreas Athanasiou.

Against the Boston Bruins Wednesday night, Vanek made a no-look pass to Athanasiou for a goal that helped the Wings come back from a deficit.

Blashill said after the game, he was hoping Vanek passed it to Nielsen but Vanek saw something else.

"When you're behind the net, at least the way I see the game, if you can make the goalie shift, which I waited, I waited and Tuukka (Rask) moved over," Vanek said. "I thought this might be the harder pass but it might be the easier goal. Over the years I've taken a lot of criticism for not shooting as much. Again, I'll be the first one to admit it, there are times when I should shoot it, but I just read the game differently and when it works out, it's usually an easier goal than when you're shooting and that one worked out perfect."

Vanek has also excelled in the shootout, scoring on all four of his attempts this season.

KRONWALL AND HOWARD: Niklas Kronwall said after Thursday's practice that he felt he was very close to being ready to play after missing the last seven games with a groin injury.

Blashill said he expects Kronwall to play Sunday at home against the New York Rangers.

Goaltender Jimmy Howard, out since Dec. 20 with a knee injury, is slowly working his way back.

"He's skated the last couple of days," Blashill said. "I don't think he'll practice with us until after the All-Star break, so until he gets a full week of practice at least, as a goaltender he wouldn't be ready to go, but he's progressing."

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