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Notes: Helm returns to face hot Calgary Flames

DeKeyser hoping to get good news from doctor next week, was able to spend time with family while out

by Dana Wakiji and Arthur J. Regner @Dwakiji and @ArthurJRegner / DetroitRedWings.com

DETROIT -- The Red Wings have a decimated blue line, but their forward corps is starting to get reinforcements.

Darren Helm returns to the lineup tonight against the Calgary Flames after missing the last 21 games with a shoulder injury.

It was Nov. 17 in New Jersey that a hit from Travis Zajac put Helm on the sidelines.

"I knew exactly what had happened," Helm said after the optional morning skate. "It's just whether I'd be missing four weeks, six weeks, 10 weeks. Things moved along pretty well and I'm happy to be where I am right now."

The Wings are happy to have Helm and his speed back in action.

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: D. Helm sliding back into the lineup tonight. #RedWings #CGYvsDET pic.twitter.com/6ETyr3jhh8

"He's a good player for us," Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. "Darren gives us a lot of puck-race and puck-battle wins to start. The game lots of times boils down to who wins those puck races and puck battles and he does an excellent job of that, provides you with lots of speed. We're a faster team with him in the lineup. Tons of character, he's a good penalty kill guy, good net-front presence guy. It's great to have him back. He's been out a long time. It'll be his first game back, he's had a chance to skate, so that's good, he looks good skating right now. But we'll ease him into it."

In Monday's practice, Helm skated on a line with Luke Glendening and Andreas Athanasiou.

"They all play fast, they all have good north games that way," Blashill said. "We're hoping that can be a good line tonight. Part of it is it allows you to ease him into it. He's real familiar with Glenny. Those two get along very well. They have good chemistry together on and off the ice. Hopefully, it can be a good line."

Helm welcomes the chance to play with Glendening and Athanasiou.

"I was pretty excited to get an opportunity to play with those two guys," Helm said. "I love playing with Glenny. Double-A is a great player, lot of speed and skill. I hope we can find some early chemistry and play well."

Unfortunately, Helm has a lot of experience coming back from long-term injuries so he knows how to handle it.

"Just keeping the game simple, not trying to do too much," Helm said. "Make the easy plays and not force anything."

Once Anthony Mantha returns from his hand injury, which could come as early as next week, the Wings will have a completely healthy set of forwards.

DEKEYSER ON THE HORIZON: Mantha has been skating with injured defenseman Danny DeKeyser the last several days.

DeKeyser was injured blocking a shot by Tampa Bay Lightning star forward Steven Stamkos on Dec. 4 and has missed the last 13 games.

"It's tough. I was feeling really good and I was in a good groove," DeKeyser said. "We play a lot of games, every other day pretty much so once you kind of find a groove and get your body feeling good, that's where I was at, I was feeling really good and my legs were feeling great. But it is what it is, just got to get back to playing how I was before I got hurt."

DeKeyser said he is supposed to see the doctor on Jan. 9 to determine how well his hand has recovered and when he'll be able to return.

"It's improving every day, my movement," DeKeyser said. "It doesn't hurt too much, just got to get the movement back in and the strength."

The fortunate thing is DeKeyser has not lost any conditioning because he's been able to skate during his rehab.

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: Danny DeKeyser joining the team on an optional morning skate. #RedWings pic.twitter.com/QSW2rAA0sl

"I'm skating harder now than I do in a lot of our practices and stuff like that," DeKeyser said. "It's tough but it's what you got to do to stay in shape. If you can't handle the puck or pass, you just got to get out there and skate so that's what I've been doing."

DeKeyser is dumbfounded by the way the Wings' defensemen have been injured most of the season.

In addition to DeKeyser, Mike Green and Trevor Daley are both out right now.

Earlier in the season, all three missed time along with Jonathan Ericsson and Niklas Kronwall.

"I don't really know what it is, kind of bad luck," DeKeyser said. "It seems like every time we get a guy back or close to being back, then another one goes down. That's happened all year. I don't know how many games we've played with all six or seven of our D that started the year with, it can't be too many of them. You had E (Ericsson) earlier in the year, he was about ready to come back and then he got hurt again. Greener, obviously starting the year with that flu or whatever he had, it's just tough."

No player likes to be injured but there was a benefit to staying home while the team was on the road in that DeKeyser got to spend more quality time with his wife, Melissa, and their baby daughter, McKinley Ann.

"The silver lining is I got to be home around the break and my daughter just took her first steps the other day," DeKeyser said. "I was home for that and I wouldn't have been able to see that if we'd been on the road. It was kind of cool. I guess things have a way of working themselves out."

FLAMES ARE HOT: The Wings welcome the red-hot Calgary Flames to town for their only visit of the season.

The Flames are first in the Pacific Division with 52 points in 40 games, tied with the Vegas Golden Knights, who have 52 points in 43 games.

"Every time I look up, they win," Blashill said. "You take notice of that for sure. Being out West, you don't see them quite as much. I'm in bed lots of times by the time they're playing. You look at the lineup, it's a real good lineup. The chemistry in those top-four D looks like the chemistry fits really well together. I coached (Noah) Hanifin, he's a really good player, but it also looks like a good partner to (Travis) Hamonic and gets (TJ) Brodie back with (Mark) Giordano. Those look like a really good top-four, as good as most teams in the league. I had a chance to coach Johnny Gaudreau a couple times at the men's worlds and have as much respect for him as a player as anybody in the league. They've got a really good team."

Gaudreau, listed at 5-foot-9, 165 pounds, is fifth in the league in scoring with 55 points.

The only players ahead of Gaudreau are Tampa Bay's Nikita Kucherov with 65 points, Colorado's Mikko Rantanen with 62 points, Colorado's Nathan MacKinnon with 59 points and Edmonton's Connor McDavid with 58 points.

"Same way all the elite players do, he knows how to create space for himself, he's got a big-time skill set, he's excellent with the puck in tight corners, makes tons of plays and he's a great competitor and winner," Blashill said. "I've got tons of respect for him as a player."

Tweet from @NHLFlames: JOHNNY BE GOOD!@johngaudreau03 has been named the @NHL's 2nd Star Of The Month for December! He put up 11 goals, 15 assists, and 26 points-in 14 games last month! pic.twitter.com/TDfhg1QY0z

Kucherov is considered a smaller forward but he's still bigger than Gaudreau at 5-foot-11, 178 pounds.

"It's impressive," Helm said. "Growing up, for him, everyone said you're too small to play, probably, so to see what he's done in this game is really impressive. You kind of see that more and more with some of the smaller players, being able to take control of game and be a big part of teams."

RASMUSSEN ADJUSTING TO THE GRIND: Until he was drafted by the Red Wings in the first round, ninth overall, in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, Vancouver native Michael Rasmussen spent most of his life out West.

So whenever a team from Western Canada comes to town to play the Red Wings, Rasmussen is a popular interview.

After Wednesday's morning skate, Rasmussen was besieged by reporters covering the Calgary Flames as they wanted to get a gauge as to how the Detroit rookie was adjusting to the NHL.

"Just being consistent is the biggest thing, it's tough to be consistent day-to-day, it's a big grind," Rasumssen said. "So it's about getting used to it and getting better, that's probably it."

In 39 games, Rasmussen has six goals among his 12 points, is minus-2, has been assessed 19 penalty minutes and has averaged 12:56 of ice time per game.

Rasmussen realizes it will take at least a season, if not longer, to figure out the league. He's 19 and last year at this time he was in Washington state playing in junior hockey for the Tri-City Americans.

"I get asked that question a lot (feeling comfortable), I'm not too worried about the big picture or how long it will take or whatever," he said. "I think I'm getting better, getting more consistent, doing my job consistently is the biggest thing, so I'm getting better at that, just keep (it) going."

Blashill has immense confidence in Rasmussen and the rookie appreciates his coach believing in him. It was Blashill who was adamant about keeping Rasmussen with the Wings instead of being sent back to juniors.

An intense and focused player, Rasmussen has succeeded because of his extraordinary ability in front of the net. His hand-eye coordination is impressive.

"It's kind of the same thing," Rasmussen said. "The biggest thing is getting there not getting boxed out, getting pucks on net so, whenever we're shooting pucks and getting pucks around there I think we're creating chaos and getting rebounds and stuff like that.

"We just have to keep sending the puck there and hopefully the guys going to the net can finish the job."

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