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Notes: Larkin looking for strong second half of the season

Wings face great challenge in Eichel, Dahlin and the Buffalo Sabres

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji / DetroitRedWings.com

DETROIT -- Red Wings center and alternate captain Dylan Larkin takes a lot upon himself when the team is not doing well.

Despite a two-game win streak and three-game home winning streak, Detroit remains in last place with 27 points (12-30-3), 10 points behind the New Jersey Devils (15-21-7).

Larkin, who had a career-high 73 points (32-41-73) in 76 games last season, has not been on the same offensive pace this season.

Through 45 games last year, Larkin had 18 goals, 23 assists and was minus-7.

Through 45 games this year, Larkin has 11 goals, 18 assists and is minus-15.

"I think at different times this year it's weighed everybody down," Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. "When you lose, it's hard. When you lose as much as we have, it's really hard, if you're a super competitor that wants to win every night. And he's certainly as competitive as anybody I've been around, so certainly that's been part of it.

"But that's part of the learning process, part of the mental toughness you develop as you go through hard times. I'm a big believer that hard times can really build you up and prepare you for later challenges. I know the stuff Dylan's going through now will prepare him for later challenges."

Larkin has definitely looked refreshed since the brief holiday break, scoring three goals and four assists in his last seven games.

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: Dylan Larkin.WHAT A BEAUTY! #LGRW pic.twitter.com/q5A2hB9FXu

"I thought he skated really, really well (Friday) night," Blashill said. "I thought he controlled the puck like he has at different times. I thought he exploded out of space and bought space for himself because of his explosion. I thought he was really skating. I think he's been doing that here a little bit lately. I think confidence-wise, you ebb and flow a little bit sometimes when it's not going your way. I'm sure he feels better about his game now. I think the big thing for Dylan is he keeps working at his defensive game, making sure he's real good on that side of the puck."

Larkin is in the midst of a five-game point streak (2-3-5), which ties him with Anthony Mantha (Nov. 6-14) and Tyler Bertuzzi (Dec. 14-22) for the longest streaks this season by a Wing.

"Even the season Tyler is having and the season Fil (Hronek) is having, they're having career years so far, I don't think anyone can be satisfied really," Larkin said. "I take it hard on myself with the losses. But since Christmas, there's been that breather there and kind of hit a reset button for me and just tried to come to the rink every day and enjoy being here and playing the game and I think it's helped my game on the ice and it's helped our team.

"I feel that energy ever since Christmas, that we've been more confident and having more joy coming to the rink. I feel my game, even though it may not have showed up on the scoresheet in the first half, it was all right but it's definitely picked up since Christmas and I'm hoping to have a good second half here."

Larkin was the Wings' candidate for the NHL's Last Men In vote, which ended Friday night.

The competition in the Atlantic Division was quite fierce, with Boston's Patrice Bergeron, Buffalo's Rasmus Dahlin, Florida's Aleksander Barkov, Montreal's Max Domi, Ottawa's Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos and Toronto's Mitch Marner.

On Saturday night, the league announced that Marner had won the Atlantic Division vote.

Tweet from @reporterchris: The last men in the NHL all-star game are Mitch Marner (Atlantic), T.J. Oshie (Metro), David Perron (Central) and Quinn Hughes (Pacific). As voted by the fans.

But Larkin did want to clarify the comment he made after the Last Men In ballot was revealed.

Before the New Year's Eve game, Larkin said, "Please don't vote. I'd like the days off more. There's great players in that group. We have great fans but I'm sure there's guys more deserving to go. I'm fine with that."

Larkin was joking when he requested that fans not vote for him, but others misinterpreted his meaning.

"In the moment, I said what I said but I really do regret that," Larkin said. "I didn't mean to disrespect the league. I feel I did that, and disrespect the Red Wings. My main goal as a hockey player in the state of Michigan is to represent myself and the Red Wings and be a good example for kids growing up playing the game. I felt I wasn't that so I'm sorry about that.

"I didn't mean for it to become a big thing. I would be honored to go and represent with Tyler. It just turned into something I didn't want it to and didn't mean for it to. I apologize."

Now Larkin is looking forward to a much better second half of the season, not just for himself but for the team.

"The frustrating part has been the injuries at the times they've come," Larkin said. "So it seems like every time we get some momentum, we get one back and one guy goes down, it's just hard to get a rhythm. Guys have done a great job stepping in. In pro sports, you gotta worry about the next night, the next game. You gotta go to the rink the next day and work as hard as you can to become a better player and better team. I feel we've done that."

Blashill has said that it is vital to maintain the culture and work ethic, even in a difficult season.

"I think we've kept working for sure," Blashill said. "First of all, I think that's what we should do, so I don't think we should be applauded for that. I think we've kept working. I am certainly happy that our guys' attitudes have stayed really good. They've continued to come to the rink to get better, even though they've been beat down. Again, I'm a big believer that going through times like this can make you way better if you're willing to work though them and learn from them."

YOUTH MOVEMENT: According to the NHL Morning Skate, Friday night's game between the Wings and Ottawa Senators was the second this season in which all of the goals scored in regulation (minimum of four) were by players 24 years old or younger.

Tweet from @PR_NHL: NHL Morning Skate: Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020��� @pmrazek34 posts another shutout in @Canes win��� Players 24 or younger score all their team's goals in Detroit��� @cmcdavid97 set to skate in final contest before 23rd birthday#NHLStats: https://t.co/7XXqyrVSh9 pic.twitter.com/4GsLgJwgy5

Bertuzzi, 24, and Larkin, 23, were the Wings' goal scorers while Brady Tkachuk, 20, and Colin White, 22, were the Senators' goal scorers.

The other game in which that was the case was the Nov. 9, 2019 game between the Philadelphia Flyers and Toronto Maple Leafs.

Philippe Myers, 22, and Oskar Lindblom, 23, scored for Philadelphia while Travis Dermott, 22, and William Nylander, 23, scored for Toronto in that contest.

SABRES IN TOWN: Once again, the Wings will be looking to try to take advantage of a team playing the second game of a back-to-back set.

While the Wings practiced Saturday, the Buffalo Sabres fell to the Vancouver Canucks, 6-3, in the afternoon.

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: Saturday practice. Sabres in town tomorrow. #LGRW pic.twitter.com/2vLSPtMFuq

The Sabres will play at Little Caesars Arena Sunday evening at 5 p.m. They shut out the Wings, 2-0, on Oct. 25 in Detroit.

After a hot start, the Sabres cooled off and are currently fifth in the Atlantic Division at 19-19-7 (45 points) and are 3-7-0 in their last 10 games.

One Sabre who has been consistently effective this season is captain Jack Eichel, who was recently named an All-Star for the third time.

After assisting on the first two Buffalo goals Saturday, Eichel, 23, has 56 points (27-31-58) in 44 games.

"When I've watched him, there's times he's been one of the more dangerous players I've seen in the league," Blashill said. "So he's definitely taken it to another level. I think that's part of the maturation process. These things don't happen overnight. They happen over long stretches of time. He's been a good player in the league since the day he set foot but he's gotten better and better."

Larkin is quite familiar with his old U.S. National Team Development Program teammate's offensive abilities.

"Absolutely, I keep tabs on him. He's having a great year," Larkin said. "I could see him right up there for MVP of the season so far. He's an explosive player, someone who's really hard to defend because he's so elusive. Every time he gets the puck on his stick, he's dangerous at making plays so you always gotta watch for him and he's been having a great year."

Eichel's production is no surprise as the second overall pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft (after Edmonton's Connor McDavid) had 82 points (2-54-82) in 77 games last season.

Then there's Buffalo defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 draft and also on the Atlantic Division ballot for Last Men In.

"The pressure's unfair probably," Blashill said. "We put expectations before guys even set foot in the league. It's crazy to be honest with you. That doesn't mean he's not going to be a really good player and might be a great player. But let's let time take its course a little bit. There was comparisons right away to Nick Lidstrom. Nick might be the best defenseman to ever play.

"Nick didn't have those comparisons when he came into the league. He didn't have those expectations. With that said, Rasmus is a heck of a player. He's a really, really good player. It's a really hard league to be 18 and 19 years old and he's learning as he goes. That's hard to do but when you watch him from my side, he looks like a really good player."

Dahlin, 19, has 23 points (2-21-23) in 36 games this season after recording 44 points (9-35-44) in 82 games last year.

NIELSEN DOES NOT PRACTICE: Center Frans Nielsen, who missed Thursday's practice due to illness, did not skate at the BELFOR Training Center Saturday.

"He had a little tweak last night, too," Blashill said. "I think he'll be fine and be ready to go."

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