SUNRISE, Fla. – Darren Helm returns to the lineup tonight when the Red Wings face-off against the Florida Panthers at BB&T Center.
The Wings’ speed forward returns in time to hopefully help fill the void left by Pavel Datsyuk, who did not accompany the team to Florida this week. According to coach Mike Babcock, Datsyuk will miss at least two games with an undisclosed lower-body injury.
Helm, who missed the past seven games with a strained oblique muscle in his chest, is having an outstanding season, where he’s already established a new career high with 13 goals. He also has 16 assists and 29 points, which is four and three shy of his career best, respectively, set in 2010-11.
Babcock was planning to reunite Helm with Datsyuk and Tomas Tatar. Instead, Sheahan will move up to center the second line. Henrik Zetterberg’s line remains the same with forwards Erik Cole and Justin Abdelkader, Luke Glendening will center the third line between Gustav Nyquist and Teemu Pulkkinen, and Joakim Andersson will center the fourth line with Drew Miller and Tomas Jurco.
The Wings will certainly miss Datsyuk's creativity and his scoring touch. He is second in team scoring with 23 goals and 58 points in 57 games this season. But Babcock hopes the return of Helm means instant energy for the Red Wings.
“We really missed Darren,” Babcock said. “Darren plays hard and is on the puck and creates turnovers. Obviously I was expecting to have Pav, but that’s the way it goes. I actually think for a guy like Pav it ain’t the end of the world that he’s missing this trip. He’ll have had the whole week off this way, and that’s got to freshen him up.”
Tonight begins a 24-day sprint to the finish for the Red Wings who will play their final 14 games of the regular season in that three-plus week span.
Getting the players enough rest while still putting in necessary practice time is a balancing act. But that’s hockey, and it’s the schedule the Wings were dealt at the beginning of the season.
“No, I don’t think much about it to be honest with you,” said Babcock, who was asked if he was concerned about the last three weeks of the season when the schedule came out last summer.
The Wings are literally finishing the regular season with games every other night with three back-to-back series sprinkled in.
Following tonight’s game, the Wings will travel to Tampa Bay to face the Lightning, who they’re chasing in the Atlantic Division standings, on Friday night. The Wings also have back to backs against the Lightning (March 28) and at the New York Islanders (March 29), as well as at Minnesota (April 4) and against Washington (April 5).
“We might as well be playing hockey,” he continued. “You know, we’ve tried to give our guys good time this month to freshen up the best we possibly can. It’s important to improve our game, get playing at the highest level from in goal to the back end to up front, from power play to penalty kill. We’ve got lots of work to do, so it’s great that we’re playing games. Our back to backs, the only one that we’re at a disadvantage for is the Tampa game. The rest of the other teams play. To me I don’t even call those back to backs. They’re just opportunities to play right away.”