DETROIT -- After two days off, the Red Wings returned to the practice ice Tuesday afternoon at the Belfor Training Center in a spirited mood.
They're riding a three-game winning streak and feeling confident they've begun to consistently execute the 'process', which has allowed them to be competitive and string some victories together.
"One of the hardest things in life to do is keep believing when you're not getting results, but our guys have done a good job of that of continuing to understand if you do it right over and over and over again, results always follow if you can stay with it," Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. "A lot of people and teams don't stay with it enough, but we stayed with it and we've got results to show for it. For over the last 17-18 games now our process has been very good, we got to stay with it."
During the last several weeks, it has become apparent Detroit's youthful core has elevated its game. The Wings are much more composed when adversity strikes and are playing with renewed confidence.
"It definitely feels like we're playing better hockey. That streak we had in November, we were clicking pretty good. We were just coming to the rink every night knowing that good things can happen and that we were going to make good things happen," Danny DeKeyser said. "That's kind of what it feels as of late. I think over these last two games over the weekend coming back from the break, maybe not the cleanest games that we would have liked to play, but on the other side of that, we found ways to win, which is good. We've had a lot of games this year where we've found ways to lose. I think that's definitely positive.
"I think a lot of guys, especially the young guys that have either been here for almost a full season now or a couple of years -- you look at Double-A (Andreas Athanasiou), (Dylan) Larkin, guys like that who have really taken strides this year. They're getting more comfortable, more confident on the ice, making more plays. And definitely maturing a little bit, knowing the game situation. How to hold on to the puck in key times when we could have a turnover, stuff like that."
Athanasiou has evolved into a dynamic player who is third in scoring on the Wings with 33 points, including 17 goals, which is the second highest total on the team.Larkin leads the Wings with 22 goals.
Greece Lightning has shown flashes over the past couple years, yet he downplays his breakout season, he prefers to look at it as a team elevation, not an individual one.
"I think we've been playing some good hockey lately and I think if we just stick to that process and do what we have to do and play a simple, hard-working game, the success will come as a team. I think we just got to keep going and keep working," Athanasiou said. "When I just come into games ready to play, ready to do my job, I don't really think about that (his stats) too much. I just get ready to play hockey and do what I can to help the team win.
"The young guys are doing a really good job of playing good hockey and stepping up. Obviously, they're doing a good job of providing a source of leadership from the young core. That's definitely helped in the room and on the ice. It's good to be a part of and anytime you can help the team out, it's a big thing."
Blashill agrees with Athanasiou about the young guys stepping it up, but he does like the way Athanasiou has approached this season.
"We've given young guys a lot of responsibility here over the last couple of years. When you give lots of responsibility to young players, there's a maturation process that happens," Blashill said. "I think him (Athanasiou) along with other guys like Larks (Larkin) and Bert (Tyler Bertuzzi) and Mo (Anthony Mantha), all those guys, I think you learn as you go along. They're learning some of that. To take what's given. To manage the game. To manage the puck.
"I would also say that what Double-A has done on a consistent basis is come and practiced hard and played hard and when he's engaged the way he has been all season long, he's a good player. He's proven that. He's been a good player for us. I've been real happy with his approach and I think when his approach is like that, he's a real good player."
LARKIN SHOOTING FOR THURSDAY: If everything goes according to Larkin's plan, he will return to the lineup on Thursday when the Wings host the defending Western Conference champions, the Vegas Golden Knights.
Larkin injured himself in Friday's 3-2 overtime victory against the Toronto Maple Leafs when he attempted to chase down a streaking Mitch Marner in OT.
"Just gave it everything I had, and I felt a muscle pull on my side. Just skating, hard explosive movement and I felt it right away," Larkin told reporters on Tuesday. "I knew it wasn't great. I was hoping that it would just kind of go away and be like a cramp. It didn't, and it took a couple days to settle down.
"I saw Marner going on a breakaway so I was back checking and the puck was there. I wanted Howie to cover it but the ref was yelling that he couldn't cover it. Then I decided to try and get off the ice and I went down on a 2-on-1 and got a shot off. After that, I knew I had to get off, it wasn't good."
It has been a standout year for Larkin, who leads the Wings in points with 49, goals with 22 and in game-winning goals with four. If he were to just miss one game, the Wings would consider themselves extremely fortunate, but Blashill is cautiously optimistic.
"(We) feel better about it today than we did certainly on Saturday when he wasn't able to play, so it looks like he has a chance to play, obviously we'd love to have him in the lineup playing," Blashill said. "I think rightly so, our training staff wanted to make sure he didn't skate today, so we didn't put him into any situation where he might tweak it again, but he did get a workout in and he'll skate tomorrow and if he feels good he'll play (Thursday) and if he doesn't he won't, so we'll know more (on Wednesday)."
Larkin realizes Wednesday's practice will determine whether he plays or not.
"I'm hoping," he said, "depending on how it goes tomorrow on the ice that I'll be good to go (on Thursday)."
INJURY UPDATE: With the news on Larkin encouraging, Blashill was a little less optimistic about Bertuzzi, who was injured in Edmonton on Jan. 22 and Trevor Daley, who broke his foot blocking a shot in practice on Dec. 31.
"No further along today," Blashill said about Bertuzzi. "I would say that he's gone through some testing in the last couple of days, so I should have more tomorrow. But no further along today, certainly not Thursday. I would say no until -- my gut would be Nashville (next Tuesday) at the earliest."
Blashill says Daley is about a week away.
"I think he's closer. He skated yesterday for a long time by himself with (assistant) coach (Doug) Houda and then he skated today," Blashill said. "I think he's probably getting closer where he's ready to get in the lineup. Not Thursday but on the weekend, I think he'd be available to us. And then we've just got to make decisions on who we play."