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Larkin a big plus

by Dana Wakiji / Detroit Red Wings
Dylan Larkin leads the league in plus-minus at plus-19 and leads all rookies in goals with 11. (Photo by Dave Reginek/Detroit Red Wings)

DETROIT -- Earlier in the season when Dylan Larkin was leading the league in plus-minus, it seemed to be maybe due to a small sample size.

But now, 27 games into the season, Larkin still leads the NHL in plus-minus at plus-19. Second is Los Angeles Kings forward Jeff Carter at plus-15.

"I think it's amazing," Niklas Kronwall said. "It's unbelievable, really, at that age, to be on the right side of things to that extent."

Larkin isn't overly impressed with the accomplishment.

"It's pretty lucky sometimes," Larkin said. "I guess being in the right spot. You want to be out there for goals and you want to create offense so it's good to be contributing."

It's also not a fluke thing where a player might get minimal ice time and somehow end up on the ice when someone scores. Larkin averages 16:37 a game.

"The good thing is when Larkin's on the ice, we're usually playing in the offensive zone," Kronwall noted. "Because when he's out there, he's out there with Hank (Henrik Zetterberg) or Abby (Justin Abdelkader), that line has been huge for us all year. Lots of times, even though they might be starting in their defensive zone, they end up in the O-zone. I'm sure he's got a lot of minutes in the O-zone compared to the D-zone."

Kronwall is well behind Larkin in that category, at minus-6, and the closest Wing to Larkin is Jonathan Ericsson at plus-6.

"The one that about plus-minus that we look at is where you’re at relative to the rest of the team and he’s obviously built up a heckuva plus-minus," Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. "Even though it’s not necessarily directly a correlation to his play because it’s not necessarily just what he does, that’s what we look at scoring chances for and against. Some guys find ways to be on the ice and score lots and some guys find ways to be on the ice and get scored against lots and you’d rather have the guy that ends up on the ice when you score lots."

Larkin also leads all rookies in goals with 11, one ahead of the New York Rangers' Oscar Lindberg and Arizona Coyotes' Max Domi.

Larkin's 11 even-strength goals is tied for third with St. Louis Blues forward Vladimir Tarasenko.

"Not a lot of players get up to that and this early, plus-19 after 27 games, that's pretty good too," said Gustav Nyquist, who has 10 goals, four on the power play. "It just shows how effective he is 5-on-5."

Most of the Wings got their first look at Larkin in the informal skates before training camp or during camp.

"I'd seen some highlights but not more than that," Kronwall said. "I heard he had a really good playoff when he started playing for GR (Grand Rapids) last year. But not more than that. I think the initial thoughts are always wow, such a good skater. It looks so effortless. But to be able to do what he does with that speed is pretty incredible. Not a lot of people can make those plays at that speed."

Kronwall said Larkin is able to perform at a high level without thinking too much, something that Blashill wants out of all of his players.

"Larkin is one of those guys who has good habits that have been built over time from his previous coaches," Blashill said. "We think he’s able to grasp situations quickly so he can play without thinking, play at a real fast speed but do things right. It’s one thing to play without thinking and not do it right. You’d like them to do it as a unit of five and do it right."

Although nothing has overwhelmed or surprised Larkin about the NHL, that doesn't mean he doesn't see areas where he wants to get better.

"I think I can have better details," Larkin said. "I think you can always improve on that. I think I want to get better on the power play and be more of an impact there. I think those are two things."

Kronwall said Wings fans who are already enjoying Larkin's play still have a lot to look forward to in the future.

"A lot of nights it feels like whenever he's on the ice, there's something happening," Kronwall said. "You can see him out there. Obviously unbelievable skater, good skills, smart. He's got the whole package, really. It's going to be a bright future, not only for himself but for the Red Wings as well. I think it's been a while since we've seen a special guy like this coming along. In saying that, he's still got unbelievable work ethic, good in the room, works out hard, just wants to learn and get better all the time. So he really is the complete package. Now it's just about experience, really."

THAT'S THE POINT: With their overtime victory Saturday night over the Nashville Predators, the Wings extended their points streak to 10 games (7-0-3), their best such streak since 2010.

"We've been working on small things," said Nyquist, who scored Saturday's game-winner. "I think it's good to see that we're finally scoring some goals. We struggled with that most part of the season so far but the last few games we've been able to put the puck in the net and that's a big thing, obviously for us. Other than that, I think our power play can still get better. We're not where we want to be in the power-play statistics. I think our PK's been good, our power play is something we can work on. So there's things we can work on but we're taking steps in the right direction."

The Wings' power play is currently 22nd in the league at 17.2 percent.

There's really not one thing that has been common during the streak.

"I think there's been some nights when we've shown a lot of character, I think coming back, we've been down a few goals," Kronwall said. "In saying that, we've also been up quite a few games and somehow let off the gas and let them back into the game. But I think just the fact that we stick with it. Regardless of what happens, we stick with it and we find a way to get points. It's a hard league, it's tough to win every night but here as of late we've been finding ways, different ways to win, whether that's being up and they come back and you end up winning in OT or something like that. We've been finding different ways to win and we've had different so to speak heroes every night, which is also huge."

CAPS AGAIN: The Wings play the Washington Capitals (18-5-2) for the third time this season Tuesday, this time in Washington, D.C.

"They’ve got a good record," Blashill said. "I think they’ve been one of the better teams in the league throughout. I think they got a good combination of skill and size and they play real structured. Barry Trotz is a great coach. He’s proven that over lots of years. They’ve just got a good mix and they’ve got a real good goalie so I think it again gives us a chance to show where we stand in the league and I love going up against real good teams and give you a chance to see where you deserve to be."

The Capitals are second in the Metropolitan Division at 38 points, one point behind the Rangers.

The Wings beat the Capitals 1-0 on Nov. 10 and then lost a 2-1 overtime game on Nov. 18.

"Skilled team, deep team, four good lines," Nyquist said. "I think their defense is really strong, they're real active, they like to join on the rush and create a lot of offense from there. They got some real special players, obviously (Nicklas) Backstrom, (Alex) Ovechkin. Ovechkin can shoot the puck and Backstrom, a real good player in every situation pretty much. They're just an overall deep and good team."

The Capitals are tied with the Rangers for second in the league in goal differential at plus-23. The Montreal Canadiens are first at plus-31.

"I think their power play is such a threat," Larkin said. "Not that you can worry about that too much. You got to worry about Ovechkin, they've got some good young guys and their D corps is pretty good. Obviously (goaltender Braden) Holtby. They're a good, all-around team."

The Capitals are second to the Boston Bruins on the power play, hitting on 25.6 percent of their chances.

Blashill said he would name a starting goaltender Tuesday.

Petr Mrazek has started both previous games against the Capitals.

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