DETROIT – 603: the number of long days between goals for Darren Helm.
Helm returned to the Red Wings’ lineup against Edmonton on Nov. 2, scoring the game-winning goal in a 5-0 win over the Oilers. The center’s goal came in his first of 10 shifts, a small but personal victory waiting to happen after missing 18 months of hockey.
But when asked if his successful return could be compared to Christmas coming early this year, Helm wasn’t so quick to agree.
“Or very late. I love Christmas,” Helm said with a smile. “I’m just really happy to be back and playing. There’s nothing else I can really say, just so relieved and it’s nice to finally be doing what I love again.”
Whether Christmas came late or early for the Winnipeg, Manitoba native, his teammates tend to agree with the latter.
“He was missed when he was gone, obviously his speed is,” said linemate Mikael Samuelsson. “I think everybody talks about his speed but there’s more to it than that. He knows how to finish and he sees to us as well. It’s good to make the other team back up a little bit, he gives other players more room.”
Helm may have been missed by all, but after being sidelined by injuries for almost two years, his lungs are an obvious concern for the Red Wings.
“The problem is fitness,” coach Mike Babcock said of Helm. “How are you in game shape and how do you have hands when you haven’t played in two years? It just doesn’t happen. If I play Helmer as many minutes as a second line center needs he’s going to be done.
“How do you do it? I don’t know all the answers to the questions so I’ll sleep on it another night.”
As Babcock determines how to best bring Helm up to speed, those who shouldn’t be sleeping on the center’s return are Detroit’s opponents.
“He plays with speed and he creates a lot of opportunities for his linemates,” said Drew Miller. “So for myself, it gives me an opportunity to play with more speed and get some more chances because the defensemen and the other team has to worry about his speed.”
Helm’s speed and style of play aren’t something the forward is willing to alter as he builds his fitness level. Despite his heaving chest between shifts that the cameras shed light on, there was no hint of Helm taking his return slow or changing his approach to the game to accommodate his physical abilities.
And he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I can’t change my style, no,” Helm said. “When I start trying to play a skill game it goes downhill fast so just work hard, get those guys the puck in front of the net, do some hard work and plays will get made.”
Whatever Helm has been doing in his three-game return certainly has been working. The forward recorded 14:59 of ice time over 19 shifts in a 4-3 overtime loss to Dallas, and tied Samuelsson for a team-leading number of hits in the loss (four). Helm has also had four more hits in the past three games than Justin Abdelkader.
But despite the promising numbers, Helm knows that a return to his previous level of play will take time.
“There’s things that you have been doing well and things that you’ve been doing pretty poorly, I’d just like to do those things a lot better,” Helm said about his first three games. “I think my game is slowly coming along, I think there’s lots of room to improve and hopefully I can get that cleaned up right away.”
LENDING A HAND: In the 4-3 overtime loss to Dallas, Henrik Zetterberg recorded three assists on Detroit’s three goals, bumping the forward’s total number of assists on the season to 10.
Adam Almquist was the lucky recipient of one of the captain’s assists, scoring his first NHL goal to give the Red Wings a 2-0 lead in the second period.
“He’s a good player for sure and he can make those special passes and open up spaces for the guys,” said Almquist. “He makes unbelievable passes you just have to be in the right spot at the right time when you play with those guys.
“I got a lucky one there, he got a really good pass to me I just shot it and it went in.”
Zetterberg finished the game with a plus-3 rating and two shots to go along with his assists, and was named the game’s Third Star for his efforts.
PLAY OF THE DAY: Pavel Datsyuk broke a 2-2 tie at 11:34 of the third period to give the Red Wings a one-goal advantage over Dallas. The Magic Man’s highlight-worthy goal came as he danced around Shawn Horcoff and down the slot, sailing a wrist shot past Kari Lehtonen.
ESPN’s flagship program SportsCenter took notice of the play, ranking Datsyuk’s goal No. 6 in the show’s Top 10 plays of the day.
“What can I say, he’s one of those guys that just do unbelievable stuff up there,” said Almquist. “You cannot believe your eyes when he does stuff like that. Dangle people and it looks so simple for him but it’s so hard for everybody else.
“You wonder what just happened, it’s fun, it’s fun to be around those guys.”
CHANGES IN HOCKEYTOWN: Forward Stephen Weiss suffered a groin injury against Dallas, recording two shots in the loss. Babcock subscribes to the belief that a groin is a 10-day injury, and plans to recall Luke Glendening from the Grand Rapids Griffins to replace Weiss.
Glendening made his NHL debut against on Oct. 12 against the Flyers and has appeared in six games for the Red Wings this season.
After appearing in two games for Detroit and recording his first NHL goal, the Red Wings assigned Almquist to the Griffins and will recall Xavier Ouellet to fill his absence.
“We flipped Mop for Ouellet, not because he scored a goal and is good, we’re just making a change,” said Babcock.
Ouellet made his NHL debut for the Red Wings on Oct. 21 in a 1-0 shootout loss to the San Jose Sharks.