DETROIT – It’s been a long time coming for the Red Wings to welcome one of their players back from injury.
After missing the past seven games with a sore groin, center Darren Helm will return to the lineup Monday night as Detroit hosts St. Louis, and is looking forward to taking the next step in his return.
“It feels good,” Helm said of his injury. “It feels fine. I’ve felt good the last couple of days. I’ve skated hard, no problems so tonight’s the next test.”
Helm has struggled with injuries for the better part of his professional career, appearing in just 18 of Detroit’s last 125 games since suffering a knee injury late in the 2011-12 season.
“I’m a veteran of being injured,” Helm said. “You just get back. The first thing I tell myself is there is nothing I could do about it. You just try to do what you can to get better and stay positive.”
The center missed the first 14 games of the 2013-14 season as he recovered from a back injury. After returning in a 5-0 victory over Edmonton on Nov. 2 in which he scored a goal in his first shift, Helm continued to provide a spark to Detroit’s offense, recording nine points over the club’s next 14 games.
The injury bug struck again, though, as a shoulder injury sidelined Helm for 11 games in December. He tried to make a brief return against Nashville on Dec. 30, but aggravated his groin in the comeback, and has missed the past seven games with the lower-body injury.
“I’ve been out, been close and been out again too many times to know that’s is so important to be 100 percent so there are no more setbacks because that means you’re out of the lineup longer and hurting the team even more,” Helm said. “I wanted to make sure when I came back I’m back for good.”
Although coach Mike Babcock doesn’t know how long it will take Helm to return to 100%, he’s looking forward to getting one of Detroit’s strongest and most impactful centers back in the lineup.
“It’s a hard league, it’s hard to come back, it takes players a long time sometimes,” Babcock said. “Obviously, he was an impactful player for us last time he was back. It was our best run of the season, we were the healthiest we’d been, we’d got on a roll. We could use goals. We don’t score. That’s normally not what he’s about but he scored a bit this season and he can help us.”
Defenseman Brendan Smith can already detect a difference in the locker room and on the ice since Helm’s return.
“It’s huge for us, I mean it brings a whole different dynamic to our team,” Smith said. “It’s like our speed level of our whole team is just bumped up about 25%. He brings a whole different dynamic, I mean on the penalty kill teams are actually worried because if they don’t execute he can have a breakaway and it’s a goal chance for us and could be a shorthanded goal.
Helm will be centering a line with forwards Drew Miller and Tomas Tatar, and the latter is excited for the speed and energy the center adds to the trio.
“It’s a big, big thing for us,” Tatar said. “Obviously he uses speed and lots of energy on the ice. We need this one and obviously he’s a big player, he got lots of success on the first-time comeback and I believe like he can help us a lot to bring more wins and get more points.”
The Red Wings picked up an important win Saturday in a 3-2 shootout victory over the Kings to kick off a five-game home stand. Currently in fifth place in the Atlantic Division behind 52 points and a 21-17-10 record, Helm’s return couldn’t come at a better time for Detroit.
“He changes everything for us,” Smith said. “He brings a lot of depth in our center core so it’s huge to have him back. We’ve been waiting for somebody to come back for a while so I think it’s a big thing for our team to get him back.”
The Blues enter The Joe boasting 69 points behind a 32-10-5 record and have the second best road record in the league (14-5-3) behind Anaheim. Monday will mark the first of two meetings between the two clubs this season, as St. Louis will host Detroit on Sunday, April 13, the Red Wings’ final game of the season.
“I don’t see them much, thank God,” Babcock said. “All these teams we’re playing right now are very good teams, high-end teams. No different than LA, Chicago. They’re a test for our young group for sure. This should be a competitive game, lots of fun. We’re going to compete. Whether it turns out right or not, we’re going to compete hard and we’re going to make it hard.”
INJURY UPDATE: Jonathan Ericsson is hoping to return to the lineup Wednesday when Detroit hosts Chicago. The defenseman has missed the past nine games with fractured ribs.
“This is not official yet but that’s what I’m hoping,” Ericsson said of returning Wednesday. “I don’t think it’s impossible, just gotta be on top of the trainers a little bit and let them know I’m ready.”
Although there is no timetable for Daniel Alfredsson’s return, the forward is hoping to return to practice within the next few days. Alfredsson has missed the past four games with back spasms and will need one or two strong practices before returning to the lineup.
“I had it a little bit for a few days and it got to the point where I wouldn’t be much help on the ice,” Alfredsson said of his injury. “It has settled down pretty good now, started rehabbing and hoping to go on the ice here the next couple of days and test it out a little bit and should be on my way back.”
Cory Emmerton injured his right pinky in the second period against the Kings on Saturday. The forward’s finger was hit on a clearing attempt during a penalty kill and he will have to undergo further evaluation to determine the severity of the injury.
SHERMAN REACTION: In the aftermath of the NFC Championship game, defenseman Brendan Smith shared his opinion of cornerback Richard Sherman’s actions and comments after his pass breakup that sealed Seattle’s 23-17 victory over San Francisco.
“It’s not totally about the interview, I mean obviously emotions will get the better of everybody and obviously he made a huge play,” Smith said. “He is one of the best corners but I think just the taunting after he made the play, going over to Crabtree and then throwing the choke sign I just think that’s uncalled for.
“It’s just not worth it and I might’ve handled things differently if I was Crabtree and somebody did that in a Stanley Cup game versus me and they scored and made a great play on myself. I don’t think it’s needed, that’s the biggest thing, but like I said he’s a great player and he should be happy he made a great play.”