DETROIT – Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.
For coach Mike Babcock, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Babcock has been lobbying for secondary scoring this season, and Darren Helm and Johan Franzen are giving him just that. Although both players have been limited by injuries this season, they have made an immediate impact since returning to the ice.
After missing 18 months of hockey due to injuries, Helm made his return to Detroit’s lineup in early November, scoring the game-winning goal in a 5-0 victory over the Oilers. The center has recorded seven points in the 11 games he’s appeared in, and is currently on a three-game scoring streak.
“Some good bounces, some good luck, some good linemates,” Helm attributed his recent success to. “I don’t really try to change anything in my game I just kind of play the way I always do and I don’t really think about any of that.”
Franzen didn’t miss nearly as much time as his teammate, having sat out four games with a back injury, but fed off Helm’s energy when he returned to the second line.
“I think coming back from injury I got to play with Helmer and Tatar and you know he was really hungry to come back after missing all those games and I was hungry coming back so we probably fed off each other a little bit and playing with him is pretty easy,” Franzen said. “He has really great speed and he gets a lot of pucks, win pucks in the corner so he’s easy to play with and creates a lot from just being fast and he started out, his first game had a breakaway and scored on that and of course gave him confidence.”
After recording five points in the first 13 games of the season, Franzen has scored eight points in seven games since returning from injury, including a three-point performance against Washington in mid-November. The right wing has also scored four points in the past five games, and his secondary production hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“I thought him and Helmer both of them, they haven’t played a lot of hockey, so I thought they were going to have a heart attack in the first,” Babcock said after Franzen’s return against Winnipeg. “They dominated some shifts and were out for some long ones. I mean, you got the puck in the offensive zone, you’re not going to change. I thought those guys played well, have us a real good second group.”
Babcock has continued to alter his team’s lineup to encourage more offensive scoring and account for injuries, such as splitting Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, and adding Gustav Nyquist to the roster. The Red Wings’ coach has long praised Helm as the best third line center in the league, but has promoted him to the second line on numerous occasions, as his style of play is infectious to all those around him.
“He brings energy, brings speed,” forward Justin Abdelkader said. “You know, the puck’s been going in for him so that’s been good. I think he has confidence shooting the puck and he’s really good at getting in on the forecheck and making the opposition think twice about making a play and a lot of times he’ll beat them to the puck. Just that speed and energy is contagious.”
“I think everyone is feeding off his energy out there, the way he works and the way he skates, everyone feeds off that,” said Franzen.
Helm relishes that part of his game just as much as his teammates do.
“Yeah it’s part of my game that I enjoy as well,” Helm said. “It kind of gets me into the game early on if I can throw a hit or get hit, it kind of gets the mojo going I guess you could say. I enjoy it whenever I get a chance I like to finish those checks, be physical and it’s a big part of my game.”
Whether it was hunger, excitement or just catching a few lucky breaks, both Helm and Franzen have been playing strong since returning to the ice, answering Babcock’s calls and motivating everyone around them.
“I’m a little bit slower, I have time to think,” Franzen said, poking fun at his success after injury.
“You play so many games you kind of lose that excitement all the time,” Helm said. “My excitement is at a pretty high peak right now and hopefully it continues for a long time. The game is really fun right now for me and I’m just enjoying what I’m doing and hopefully just keep having fun.”
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