DETROIT – Homecomings are few and far between for Red Wings forward Darren Helm.
The Manitoba native will get a chance to return to the Winnipeg area when the Wings faceoff against the Jets on Thursday. With conference realignment prior to last season, meetings between these out-of-conference foes are a rarity.
“We only get there once a year unless something else happens in the playoffs,” Helm said. “It doesn’t happen often so when you get the opportunity you definitely want to try and make the most of it. Have a good game, see as many people as you can and I always enjoy going back to Winnipeg.”
Last season, the Wings made the trip to Winnipeg for the first time since the franchise relocated from Atlanta. The trip home was a sour one for Helm, as Detroit lost 4-2 by giving up three unanswered goals. Helm will hope for a better outcome this time around with several family members and friends expected to be on-hand.
“It’s exciting to have some time to see some people that I don’t see too often and play in front of some family and friends that don’t get a chance to come down (to Detroit) very often” Helm said.
In the midst of a grueling 13-game stretch where they play a game every other day for 24 straight days, the Wings will turn their focus to the road with trips to Columbus and Toronto sandwiched around the Winnipeg game. While it is a tasking schedule, the consistency of games followed by practice days could provide a chance for a team to get into a groove and string together wins.
What type of rhythm the Wings get into has yet to be determined. Arguably their best performance of the season came on Friday against Chicago resulting in a dominant 4-1 win. However, Sunday’s struggles against Montreal halted any potential momentum after a 4-1 loss. So the next few games could be what sways the needle one way or the other in setting the tone for coming weeks.
With that, here’s a look ahead to this week in Hockeytown:
TUESDAY at COLUMBUS (6-10-1):
Center - CBJ
Goals: 6 | Assists: 14 | Pts: 20
Shots: 49 | +/-: -5
The Blue Jackets snapped a nine-game losing streak with wins on consecutive nights over the weekend, beating the Philadelphia Flyers 4-3 on Friday and the San Jose Sharks 2-1 on Saturday. Riding a wave of success on the power play, the Blue Jackets have scored on the man advantage in eight straight games, setting a new franchise record. Their PP unit ranks fourth in the NHL at 24.6 percent, scoring 17 power-play goals from seven different players. Columbus has been bit hard by the injury bug with seven players currently listed on the injured reserve list and more than 100 man games lost already. That has played a significant role in the team’s struggles through the first month and a half of the season.
PLAYER TO WATCH: The most notable contract holdout during the NHL preseason has proved his worth. Ryan Johansen is the team’s leader in points with 20 through the first 17 games. He has recorded at least one point in 13 of those 17 games including a 10-game point streak, tying a franchise record held by R.J. Umberger. Johansen recorded a career-high four-point night in Friday’s victory over the Flyers, tallying an assist on each of the team’s four goals. He’s currently tied for eighth in points among NHL players and 11 of his points have come on the man advantage.
THURSDAY at WINNIPEG (9-7-3):
Right Wing - WIN
Goals: 8 | Assists: 5 | Pts: 13
Shots: 55 | +/-: 1
The Jets have got to be pretty content with a 5-2-2 record to start the month of November. Scoring comes at a premium as the Jets ranked 29th in the NHL averaging 1.78 goals per game before Sunday’s contest against the Minnesota Wild. The Jets were shut out in that game for almost two and a half periods before they rattled off three goals in a five-minute span to tie the game up and earn one point in the standings. The Wild went on to win 4-3 in overtime, handing the Jets their second loss of the weekend. A lack of scoring has become typical of Winnipeg’s games, as the Jets may not score many goals but they also surrender just 2.00 goals against, which is tied for second in the league. With those figures added together, Winnipeg games average 3.78 goals per game, which is the lowest total in the NHL.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Blake Wheeler has three goals over the last three games, accounting for all of Winnipeg’s offense — aside from Michael Frolik’s empty net goal — on Nov. 13 in a 3-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes and on Nov. 15 against the Nashville Predators in a 2-1 loss. Add two more assists to Wheeler’s total and he has five points in his last six games, moving him into first on the team in goals (8) and points (13). The Minnesota native led the Jets in goals in each of the last two seasons by scoring 19 goals during the shortened 2012-13 season and then 28 goals in 2013-14. He is also one of the most penalized players on the most penalized team. Wheeler and teammate Dustin Byfulgien combine for 84 of the team’s 273 penalty minutes.
SATURDAY at TORONTO (9-7-2):
Defense - TOR
Goals: 3 | Assists: 9 | Pts: 12
Shots: 30 | +/-: 4
The third of five meetings between Atlantic Division rivals, the Wings and Maple Leafs will faceoff two more times before Christmas to finish their season series. The Wings won the previous two meetings during a back-to-back, home-and-home series in October. Toronto will play eight of their next nine games — including the Wings — at home in the Air Canada Centre where they’ve won four of their last five. Led by strong special teams on both ends of the ice — the Leafs power play and penalty kill rank in the top 10 in the NHL — a strong start is important as Toronto is 6-0-0 when scoring first this season.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Entering his fifth season in the NHL, defenseman Cody Franson is off to the strongest start of his career. Franson leads all Leafs defensemen in scoring with three goals and 12 points through 16 games. He is tied at eighth among NHL defensemen in scoring with the likes of other offensive threats in the league such as Erik Karlsson, Mike Green and Kris Letang. The six-feet, five-inch Franson is developing into a dangerous D-man playing alongside captain Dion Phaneuf. He is riding a seven-game point streak — the longest of his career — and has five points on the power play.