DETROIT – Playing a checking role or rehabbing from a myriad of injuries is something Darren Helm has dealt with during much of his seven NHL seasons.
But this season he’s healthy for the first time in a very long span, and he’s contributing more as a scoring threat on a top-six forward line with Pavel Datsyuk and Tomas Tatar.
Helm’s new responsibilities includes playing a net-front position on the Wings’ second power-play unit, which chipped in with a goal in Saturday’s 5-4 shootout loss to the Winnipeg Jets at Joe Louis Arena.
“It’s spread out pretty evenly (the two units) and guys are moving the puck,” said Helm, who scored his third career power-play goal. “We’re scoring goals and got lots of confidence with our power play and know it’s going to be a factor every night. It has to be for our team to be successful. We got two equal lines out there that can contribute.”
Both units of the league’s top-performing power play scored Saturday. The Red Wings have scored 51 goals on 194 power-play opportunities, which is one more than they produced all of last season.
The power play has been lethal lately, registering 12 goals on 29 chances in the past 10 games, which is a hefty 41.4 percent success rate. Detroit was 2-for-5 on the power play against the Jets, though coach Mike Babcock thought they could have done more.
“I’d like to see our power play be a little more dangerous on the last couple but they’re a good team, too,” Babcock said.
Defenseman Niklas Kronwall got the scoring started for the home team when they were granted an unusual two-minute 5-on-3 power play in the first period – as Jets linemates Blake Wheeler and Drew Stafford received boarding and holding penalties, respectively – leading to Detroit’s first goal. It took 98 seconds for the Wings’ power play to strike when Kronwall fired a blast from the slot that went into the top of the net behind Jets goalie Michael Hutchinson, tying the score, 1-1, at 16:54.
“It’s always exiting when you get a chance 5-on-3,” Helm said. “It was looking like they were going to be able to fight that one off, but Kronner did a good job getting one late. It’s a big momentum boost is you score and kind of a letdown if you don’t.”
Kronwall’s goal was just the fourth power-play tally by a Wings’ defensemen this season, and the first since he scored at Toronto on Dec. 13.
Helm gave the Wings their first lead of the game on the power play when he banged in a backhand shot at the two-minute mark of the second period. The goal tied Helm’s single-season career high for goals at 12, which he established last season.
“Yeah, I’m just chipping away, trying to find some holes and get some opportunities,” Helm said, modestly. “Confidence is probably a little bit more of a factor in my game lately and when pucks are going in you get confidence and when you’re playing well you have confidence. And when you’re healthy, too.”
Helm also chipped in on the Wings’ third goal when his shot from the right circle ricocheted into the net off of Datsyuk’s upper body.
“I try to make sure it not hit me in the face,” Datsyuk said, of the goal that put Detroit up 3-1 in the second. “I’m happy that it didn’t (hurt) me.”
The two-point effort was Helm’s fifth multi-point game this season, his second in three games, and his first in five career games against his hometown team.
Certainly, playing with more offensive-minded players hasn’t hurt Helm’s productivity, however, Babcock likes to think that the Manitoba native is maturing as a player in this league.
“I also think he’s come of age, too,” Babcock said. “He’s been hurt for a couple years. He was going in the right direction before he got hurt. I thought he was one of our most dominant players. I don’t know who was the best forward today, Pav or him.”
The Jets scored three straight goals and took a 4-3 lead on Andrew Ladd’s power-play goal at 4:38 of the third period.
The Wings were in danger of losing a second straight game in regulation for the first time this season. But Datsyuk’s even-strength goal at 13:27 – his second of the game – forced overtime, and prevented the 60-minute loss.
The game also marked the return of Wings goalie Jimmy Howard who was making his first start since slightly tearing a groin muscle five weeks ago. He missed 11 games, but played the third period Wednesday when he replaced rookie Petr Mrazek in a 4-1 loss at Pittsburgh.
Howard was fooled on the Jets’ first shot at 2:36 of the opening period. Winnipeg defenseman Chris Torburn redirected Jacob Trouba’s rising shot down and the puck squeezed underneath Howard’s pads.
Tracking the puck and timing were the biggest issues, said Howard, who, for just the fourth time this season, allowed four goals in a game.
“Sometimes I felt I was a little ahead of the play and there were other times when I felt I was a little behind the play,” said Howard, who made 34 saves and stopped three shots in the four-round shootout. “But that’s going to come the more I play, the more I’ll feel at home out there.”