DETROIT – Most of the Red Wings returned to practice Tuesday after an off day following a bounce-back game in Pittsburgh on Sunday.
A players’ only meeting initiated by captain Henrik Zetterberg seemed to spark Detroit’s 5-1 win over the Penguins just hours after the Wings were embarrassed in a 7-2 throttling by the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday afternoon.
“Hank said ‘Enough’s enough. We’ve got to come out with better efforts out there,’ ” Wings forward Gustav Nyquist said. “Several games in a row we didn’t come out with an effort at all in the first (period) and ended up playing catch-up hockey for the last I don’t know how many games. I think that was the big message. Just come out and play hard for each other, for your teammates and we’ll be successful.”
Coach Mike Babcock hopes Zetterberg’s message has a lasting affect.
“Let’s be honest, we’ve sucked for a bit here and so it was important to get back and playing right and doing the things that we do to be successful,” Babcock said. “That’s more a mental thing than a physical thing.”
With 14 games left to play in the final 24 days of the regular season, the Wings plan to err on the side of caution where practice versus rest is concerned.
Detroit’s older players received a second straight off day on Tuesday.
“That’s why we did it like we did it here today,” Babcock said. “We’ve given our players quite a few days off – our older players – this month to get ‘em freshened up to the best we possibly can. We’ll continue to do that. … We play every second day, so it’s a matter of them living right. It’s not a long period of time. You gotta eat right, you gotta sleep right, you gotta drink right, and you gotta play right.
“It was nice that we were able to put the schedule up on a calendar month today and it all fit in. So even though it goes over two months it’s still a short time now. It’s short enough for you to focus on and understand, and let’s get playing right.”
The importance of momentum as the team steams toward its 24th consecutive appearance in the Stanley Cup playoffs – which begin April 15 – isn’t lost on the players in the Wings’ locker room.
“We haven’t really faced a lot of adversity this season,” forward Justin Abdelkader said. “Every team goes through adversity. You don’t want your lows to be too long. Stay even-keeled as much as you can. I think we’ve done a really good job of just each day coming in working hard and getting better. Hopefully we’re back on track after Sunday’s game.”
The Red Wings have a few days to get prepared for another set of three games in four days. They play at Florida on Thursday, Tampa Bay on Friday, and return home for a Sunday matinee against St. Louis.
“Anytime you get a break like this is nice, regardless if you keep the momentum or not,” Abdelkader said. “This late in the season to get some days off you’ll take it, kind of rest up and heal up and get ready. Once we get back at it Thursday, with back to backs, we’re pretty much playing every other day. So we’ll take this break, everyone gets refreshed, healthy and gets ready for this last stretch of 14 games.”
Darren Helm could be back in the Wings’ lineup in time for this week’s Florida trip. The speed forward hasn’t played since he suffered a sprained oblique muscle Feb. 28 in Nashville.
Helm’s return hasn’t been confirmed, but Babcock is counting on reunited Helm on the team’s top-scoring line with 20-goal scorers Pavel Datsyuk and Tomas Tatar.
“Obviously he’s a real good player for us,” Babcock said of Helm. “It allows us to spread things out more. It gets (Luke Glendening) back in his right spot, which is real important for our team. We think we’re going to have a good team here, so ideally – knock on wood – we can stay healthy and start playing the best we can play.”
Helm, who has missed the last seven games, is anxious to get back to work with his linemates.
“I definitely want to get out there and help them and be part of the team again,” he said. “We did finish off on a pretty good note. We were buzzing pretty good and producing. All we can hope for is we get back out there together and find a way to click and win some hockey games.”
Babcock indicated that Petr Mrazek will start Thursday in Florida, and Jimmy Howard will play Friday against the Lightning, who’s in second place in the Atlantic Division.
Mrazek, who made 42 saves in Sunday’s win at Pittsburgh, will face the Panthers for the second time in his career. The 23-year-old goalie made 37 saves in Detroit’s 5-4 win over the Panthers at BB&T Center on Jan. 27.
LARKIN RECEIVES B1G HONOR: University of Michigan forward Dylan Larkin, who was selected by the Red Wings in the first round of last summer’s NHL draft, was the unanimous winner of the Big Ten freshman of the year award.
The 18-year-old Larkin, of Waterford, Mich., led all conference freshmen in goals (14), assists (29) and points (43).
Glendening, a former Wolverines’ forward, has been very impressed by Larkin, who leads Michigan into this week’s B1G three-day tournament at Joe Louis Arena.
“He’s a good kid and real humble,” Glendening said. “He goes about his work, that’s for sure, and it’s exciting that he won that.”
Larkin ranks second in the nation in points per game (1.34) behind only Boston University’s Jack Eichel, a generational player, who is expected to among the top two players taken in this summer’s NHL draft.
“It’s incredible,” Glendening said. “Obviously, Eichel is a special player, but they’re both world-class talent and it’s exciting that they’re both playing college hockey. It’s bringing a lot of attention to the game that’s for sure.”