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Helm's notoriety begins to climb

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
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DETROIT – Folks are beginning to take notice of Darren Helm’s game.

The high-energy speedster scored three goals with an assist on the Red Wings’ recently concluded West Coast trip, which included a game-winning tally in the final seconds at Los Angeles last Thursday.

“I’m impressed with Helmer all of the time because he plays so hard,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “He’s scored more in the last couple of weeks, so he ends up with more notoriety, but his line has been very good with him, (Patrick) Eaves and (Kris) Draper, pretty much since they got put together.”

Helm has scored five goals in the last five games. While his hot streak isn’t surprising, the question remains: What happened to his first 55 regular-season games when he registered three goals?

If fairness to Helm, he’s never really been known as a goal scorer, even during his junior days at Medicine Hat. His game is more uptempo, a kind of seek-and-destroy guy, if you will. He does a lot of the dirty work and goes places, like the corners, that many scorers would prefer not visit.

A great example of Helm’s hard work came against the Kings and defenseman Sean O’Donnell. As Helm battled for the puck in the corner, the Kings’ 15-year veteran knocked the Wings’ forward to the ice. Helm got to his skates, regained possession of the puck, and made a dash to the Kings’ net, and slid a shot that beat the netminder five-hole.
“That was probably the biggest situation-goal that I’ve scored so far this year,” said Helm, who has eight goals and six assists this season. “It was a big goal with very little time left in the game, so it was really exciting and a very good feeling.”

Helm missed the first four games of the season with an AC sprain suffered at training camp in Traverse City. But since returning to the lineup, he has turned increased minutes into productive results in virtually every situation, including face-offs, where he’s been successful 56.1 percent of the time.

“I’ve kind of struggled on face-offs, lately,” Helm said. “It’s the one thing that you always have to be prepared for; it’s just those little battles that you’re going to have in a game about 15-20 times that you have to be at your best at. It’s tough, but it’s something that you just learn over time to be more consistent.”

Players like Helm and rookie Justin Abdelkader have had advanced roles this season, mainly because of the overwhelming number of injuries sustained by key members of the Wings’ roster.

While Helm doesn’t take anything for granted, he knows that improvement is essential to his NHL success.

“I still have to work on my defensive game, I think,” he said. “I think it’s pretty good, but there’s always room for improvement.”

CAPTAIN AMERICA? Red Wings defenseman Brian Rafalski learned over the weekend that he would not be the captain for Team USA. But as a consolation prize, the Dearborn, Mich., native was selected as one of four alternate captains that the Americans will use in the Vancouver Games next month.

USA Hockey announced on Monday that New Jersey captain Jamie Langenbrunner will wear the ‘C’ for the USA, which begins Olympic play with a preliminary game against Switzerland on Feb. 16.

“It’s such a short tournament that the leadership of the team is going to have to see that things are addressed quickly, keep the team focused, and make sure that we don’t let emotions over-take situations in what we’re trying to do,” said Rafalski, who at 36, is the oldest member of the American squad.

Rafalski will be joined by Devils forward Zach Parise, Nashville defenseman Ryan Suter and Los Angeles forward Dustin Brown as alternate captains.

“All of these players have played in the NHL for some point, so they’re not rookies, though it may be their first Olympics," Rafalski said. "Hopefully it will bring a lot of energy and enthusiasm into the locker room. I think these guys will be fired up and ready to go."

The Red Wings play the first of three Eastern Conference foes when they travel to Long Island, N.Y. for a match with the Islanders at Nassau Coliseum on Tuesday.

While Babcock is happy with the Wings ability to take six out of a potential eight points on the four-game trip out west, he knows that it’s no time to relax.

“We can’t afford to dip though,” Babcock said. “We’re playing an Islander team that is 6-2-1 in their last nine and their young guys skate well. We have to be prepared for that and obviously, it’s a big time of year for us.”

Rookie goalie Jimmy Howard will get his ninth straight start in net on Tuesday. He is 16-9-2 with a 2.14 goals-against average.

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