DETROIT – Saturday’s return to the Red Wings’ lineup couldn’t have worked out any better for Darren Helm than it did in Edmonton.
The third-line center, who had played just one game in 19 months, scored on his first shift back from a series of debilitating injuries that started with a sprained knee in San Jose on St. Patrick’s Day in 2012.
“I was pretty nervous,” said Helm, who returned from herniated disc and groin injuries. “Waiting to hear my name get called on the bench, I was pretty anxious, eager to get out there. I was lucky it was on the fly, didn’t have time to think.”
The first-period goal in a 5-0 triumph over the Oilers was Helm’s eighth career game-winner, and his first goal since he potted the game-winner against the Los Angeles Kings on March 9, 2012.
Now Helm gets to follow up his season debut with a homecoming game tonight when the Wings face-off against the Winnipeg Jets at MTS Centre.
“It’s going to be really nice to see some family, friends, don’t get to see them too often. Just nice to play at home,” said Helm, who still spends his summertime in Winnipeg. “I’ve been getting calls and texts and messages, how excited people are to get a chance to see me come home. The excitement goes both ways for sure.”
Helm has fielded plenty of ticket requests from family and friends, but he doesn’t mind. “We got a pretty big family. I know there’s quite a bit of people going. A few more ticket requests I got to fill. Should be lots of Helm family members out there. It’ll be good.”
The game is historic for the Red Wings, who were the last NHL team to play against the old Jets, who moved to Phoenix after they were eliminated by Detroit in the opening round of the 1996 Stanley Cup playoffs.
“It’s a city that loves its hockey and really gets behind their team,” said Helm, who was 9-years-old when the Jets moved to the southwest United States. “It was a shame when they left, but the city is really behind them. You can tell when I go back how excited everybody is. Should be an interesting feeling going back there.”
The Red Wings would like to build on their highly-successful swing through western Canada last week where they grabbed all six possible points in wins at Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton.
Tonight, the Wings conclude their Canadian trip before heading home to welcome in a couple of friends – general managers Jim Nill and Steve Yzerman, who bring the Dallas Stars and Tampa Bay Lightning, respectively, to Joe Louis Arena.
With that, here’s a look ahead to this week in Hockeytown:
MONDAY – at WINNIPEG (5-8-2): The Jets’ defense has been decimated with blue liners Jacob Trouba (neck), Mark Stuart (hip) and Paul Postma (blood clot) all currently residing on injured reserve. The team’s power play has also gone flat-line, spiraling to just 1-for-31 in the last 10 games. Winnipeg has won just once in the last seven contests, meanwhile, the Jets penalty kill has provided a glimmer of strength, currently ranking No. 12 in the league with an 83 percent efficiency. Winnipeg’s leading penalty killer has been Stuart, who leads the team with 44:45 total time on the penalty kill for an average of 3:43 per game. … Blake Wheeler is on a hot streak, having a lot of success going to the net and scoring on rebound opportunities, collecting four goals in the last six games. … Andrew Ladd leads the team with three multi-point games this season, but the Jets are 0-2-1 in those games. He became the first Jets’ player to earn shorthanded and power-play points in the same game with two assists in a 3-2 loss at St. Louis on Oct. 27. Ladd is also the last player in franchise history to earn points on both sides of special teams. He achieved the feat with a power-play assist and a game-winning shorthanded goal in leading the Atlanta Thrashers to a 5-1 triumph over the Red Wings on Nov. 24, 2010. Ladd has thre shootout goals, which ties him with Buffalo’s Matt Moulson and Kings’ Anze Kopitar for the league-lead. … The Jets’ goalies have very little experience against the Red Wings. It’s likely Detroit will face starter Ondrej Pavelec, who has posted a 2-1-0 career record with one shutout against the Wings. Backup and former University of Michigan standout Al Montoya hasn’t played against Detroit. … The Jets have converted on both of their 5-on-3 opportunities this season, but lost both games at Minnesota (2-1) on Oct. 10 and at St. Louis (3-2) on Oct. 27.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Bryan Little, who has 11 points through 15 games, is easily on pace to having his most successful season since he produced 31 goal and 20 assists in 2008-09 with the organization when they were based in Atlanta. In his short career, he has registered a point-per-game against Los Angeles, Colorado and Detroit. In five career games against the Red Wings, Little has three goals and two assists with a minus-4 rating.
THURSDAY – vs. DALLAS (6-6-2): It’s been five years since the Stars were last relevant, but now, the hope is new general manager Jim Nill will bring some front office magic that he learned in his time with the Red Wings to Big D. It’s definitely a work in progress for the Stars who have built this season’s roster through free agency and trades. … Over the last two seasons, the Red Wings are 6-1-0 against the Stars, while out-scoring their former Western Conference rivals 24-11. The road-weary Stars come to Joe Louis Arena with just two victories away from the American Airlines Center this season. … Since coming back from a groin injury, goalie Kari Lehtonen has carried the torch for the Stars. His superb numbers have helped the Stars gain at least a point in each of their last six games. … The Red Wings and Stars are No. 18 and 19, respectively, in league scoring. So balanced scoring is an issue for the Stars with Tyler Seguin (six goals), Alex Chiasson (five) and Jamie Benn (four) combining on 15 goals, while 10 other forwards have produced a total of 12 goals. Chiasson is on pace to a 30-goal season, but the 23-year-old rookie forward is without a point in the last four games. Coach Lindy Ruff shuffled the lines Sunday at Ottawa, moving Chiasson to the top line with Tyler Seguin and Ray Whitney, while Benn skated alongside Cody Eakin and Valeri Nichushkin on the second unit. The third line of Antoine Roussel, Vern Fiddler and Rich Peverley has collected three goals and three assists in the last four games. … Stars defensemen have scored a goal in five of the last seven games. Over that span, blueliners have earned seven points with Alex Goligoski (two goals), Brenden Dillon (two goals) and Stephane Robidas (one goal) each finding the back of the net since Oct. 20. Dillon currently leads the Stars defense with three goals and four assists this season. He also leads the team with a plus-6 rating.
PLAYER TO WATCH: The Stars’ roster features 10 players acquired by trade, including Seguin, who has a club-best four multi-point games of the season, including last Friday’s overtime loss to Colorado when he collected a goal and an assist. He now has two goals and three assists in his last five games, and currently is tied for 10th in Western Conference scoring with a team-leading 15 points. In two career games against the Red Wings, Seguin, who played two OHL seasons with the Plymouth Whalers, has one goal and is 1-for-13 in the face-off cirlce.
SATURDAY – vs. TAMPA BAY (10-4-0): The Lightning is the real deal right now and much of the credit goes to goalie Ben Bishop, who has nine wins with a more than respectful 2.15 goals-against average and .925 save percentage. Last season, the Lighting struck fast, jumping to a 6-1-0 start, but soon went on a 3-9-1 swoon and missed the playoffs. … Tampa Bay is 10-2-0 when leading or tied after the first period, and they’ve won two games when trailing heading into the third period this season. … While they are owners of one of the best power plays in the league, ranking No. 8 (12-of-56), they have surrendered a league-low three shorthanded goals. Still, they have recorded a power-play goal in four of their past six games, going 5-for-23 during that stretch… Offensively, four Lightning players – Steven Stamkos (20), Martin St. Louis (16), Alex Killorn (12), and Valtteri Filppula (11) – have produced double-digit points. St. Louis has recorded 16 points (seven goals, nine assists) over the last 13 games. … The Bolts penalty kill has been solid over their past nine games, killing off 32 of 33 penalties during that time. Their penalty kill has moved into sixth in the NHL at 85.4 percent. … Richard Panik’s minus-9 rating is among the worst in the league. Only three other players that aren’t Edmonton Oilers have worst plus-minus ratings than Panik, who has skated on the third line with Filppula and follow rookie winger Ondrej Palat.
PLAYER TO WATCH: One of the finest young players in the league, Steven Stamkos tied for the league lead with seven points two weeks ago in earning the NHL’s First Star award while helping the Lightning win three straight games. He leads all NHL players with the most goals (196) since 2009-10. The Lightning are 95-44-14 when Stamkos has scored since then. He is currently on a four game goal-scoring streak, and he became the first player to record a power-play, shorthanded and even-strength goal in team history when he led Tampa Bay to a 7-2 win against Florida on Oct. 10. He is the only player to rank in the top five in league scoring over the past four seasons. The 23-year-old native of Markham, Ontario, has posted five multi-point games this season and ranks second in the NHL with 20 points through 14 games.
Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose
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