KANATA, Ontario – It’s a disturbing thought.
For a dozen Red Wings, their next goal will be their first goal this season.
In the case of Darren Helm, it’s not without his September setbacks. He missed training camp, the exhibition season, and the first four games of the regular season.
“It sucks,” said Helm, who suffered a separated shoulder as well as a concussion in the opening minutes of camp when he collided head-on with invitee Jerome Verrier.
“I’ve played in 13 or 14 games now,” Helm added, “I’ve had my camp, I’ve had my exhibition, there’s no excuses right now for any poor play that comes along. There’s no excuse now.”
Unfortunately, Helm has no goals with a minus-4 rating in those 13 games. He has just one assist, a second-period helper on Jonathan Ericsson’s lone goal that came in a 5-3 win over the Ottawa Senators at Canadian Tire Centre on Oct. 31.
Once considered the best third-line center in the league, the injuries atrophied Helm’s conditioning. Helm returned to the lineup Oct. 17, where he was demoted to the fourth line and has been battling to regain his game conditioning.
The fourth line is where Helm will line up again tonight when the Red Wings face off against the Senators. Helm will skate on the right wing with center Luke Glendening and left wing Riley Sheahan.
“I want to get better, I want to keep improving,” Helm said. “I don’t want to be satisfied with where I’m at. Obviously I want to produce. I look at what makes me a good hockey player and that’s hard work and skating, being relentless on the puck. I think if I actually get those a little bit better than those points will come.”
Helm isn’t the only Wings player struggling.
The entire team has found it difficult to score at even strength. Collectively, Detroit has scored 22 five-on-five goals, tied for No. 27 in the league with Philadelphia. Only New Jersey (21), Carolina (19) and Anaheim (18) have fewer five-on-five goals.
The Wings scored six five-on-five goals in the first two games of the season – both wins vs. Toronto and at Carolina. Since then, Detroit has produced just 16 goals five on five in 15 games.
Injuries limited Pavel Datsyuk, Johan Franzen and Brad Richards to 10 games combined with no goals, so each veteran deserves a short-term pass. Datsyuk returned to the lineup last Friday against San Jose. He is still trying to work his way back to full speed after undergoing ankle surgery last June. Richards has resumed skating in team practices and hopes to return soon, while no timetable has been established for Franzen, who is dealing with post-concussion issues.
Meanwhile, Glendening, Drew Miller, Tomas Jurco, Joakim Andersson and Landon Ferraro haven’t scored either, and defensemen Niklas Kronwall, Mike Green and Alexy Marchenko are also looking for their first goal celebrations.
The production of other forwards is equally perplexing. Sheahan has one goal in 13 games. Tomas Tatar has one goal in six games and two in nine. Henrik Zetterberg has one goal in seven games and two in 14. Teemu Pulkkinen has scored once in eight games. Dylan Larkin is goalless in five games, and Justin Abdelkader, who scored a power-play goal Saturday at Boston, has one goal in 15 games.
Aside from injuries, the Red Wings aren’t getting pucks to the net where greasy second- and third-chance goals can be had. Detroit is averaging 38.6 shot attempts per game, but only registering 25.3 shots on only.
“We got to hit the net more,” Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. “We had 18 missed nets (at Boston) and that’s not counting blocks. If we turn half those into shots we got 32 shots. We got to do a better job at the net to create seconds.”
Blashill is willing to cut Helm some slack because he’s still contributing in different ways.
“The thing with his 13-14 games is most guys got four or five training camp games and he got none, so really you take that out of there, so maybe he’s got eight games played,” Blashill said. “And he hasn’t spent as much time on the power play as he did last year. That’s something we’ll continue to explore. His game has been way better in the last 4-5 games. I think he’s been a real impactful player every night. He doesn’t need to score to be impactful, he needs to use his energy to win puck battles and create zone time and I think he’s done that.”
Left Wing - DET
Goals: 5 | Assists: 3 | Pts: 8
Shots: 33 | +/-: 2
Pulkkinen, who missed Saturday’s 3-1 loss at Boston with a sore neck, will be back in the lineup tonight at Ottawa.
The sniper said the stiffness settled in early Friday and only got worse.
“After the San Jose game my neck was really bad,” he said. “The next morning I couldn’t move my head, so it was really bad. But we’ve done some treatments, now I’m good to go.”
Pulkkinen, who has five goals and eight points in 16 games, will replace Andersson in the lineup and play on the third line with Miller and Athanasiou.
STOP THE BLEEDING: This is the first time the Wings (8-8-1) have suffered this many regulation losses through the first 17 games of any season since 1998-99, which happens to be the last time Detroit lost more than 30 games in a single campaign. However, that season, the Wings managed to finish first in the Central Division with a 43-32-7 record.
The playoff odds aren’t good for 30-loss teams. Since the start of the salary-cap era in 2005-06, only 34 teams – that’s 21.1 percent – qualified for the postseason. Those numbers drop sharply with each additional loss as just five teams that compiled 33-35 losses managed to squeak into the playoffs.
The last time a team crossed the 33-loss threshold and qualified were the 1998-99 Edmonton Oilers, who finished at 33-37-12, and were swept by Dallas in the first round.
Calgary was the only team to make the playoffs with 30 losses last season.