DETROIT – After missing the last eight games with issues related to a concussion that he sustained last month, Darren Helm has been cleared to play.
However, Mike Babcock was taking a wait-and-see approach when he was asked Friday about Helm playing Saturday afternoon at Minnesota.
“I don’t know,” the Red Wings coach said. “We’ll see after tomorrow’s warm-up if he’s going or not.”
Friday was the fifth straight day that Helm has skated without feeling any residual side-effects that have plagued him off and on since he suffered a concussion at Ottawa Feb. 27.
“I'm excited to get back in, obviously,” said Helm, who has missed 40 games this season. “I want to get back out there and get going with the team.
“A bunch of good skates, cleared by the doctor, did my concussion test, I guess you could call it, did well on that and I feel good and ready to go.”
The Red Wings’ injuries issues are well documented this season, especially at the center position with Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Stephen Weiss and Joakim Andersson all out. So getting a player of Helm’s caliber, with his speed and energy, can be contagious.
“His speed, it’s a huge factor,” goalie Jimmy Howard said. “He’s great on the penalty kill, getting up the ice, pressuring. It’s a center we get back in the lineup. Good to have him back.”
It’s been an extremely disappointing past two years for Helm, who has missed 101 regular-season games since suffering an MCL sprain more than two years ago. After that, he missed time with a lacerated forearm, herniated disk, sore groin, and sprained shoulder.
It’s definitely been a frustrating time for Helm, who was expected to start the season as the Red Wings’ third-line center.
“I'd say painful, not physically but mentally,” Helm said. “That's the word I'll pick.”
Helm said he hopes to return to his role against the Wild, either Saturday or back at Joe Louis Arena Sunday evening. At practice Friday, he centered a line with Cory Emmerton and rookie Landon Ferraro.
“I played with those guys a couple of times, played with Lando in GR when I went down, good kid and Emmer's been here for a while,” Helm said. “Hopefully we can find some chemistry quick and I don't think we'll be playing huge minutes but hopefully we can be effective.”
ANDERSSON UPDATE: Sunday will be two weeks since Andersson suffered a hairline fracture of his left ankle while blocking a shot against the New York Rangers.
Since the Red Wings won’t have a morning skate Saturday, Andersson did not travel to Minnesota, but he said his return isn’t far away.
“I was skating full out there,” said Andersson about Friday’s practice. “I didn't hold back or anything. I can do most stuff out there.”
Andersson said it will take some more time for the bone to completely heal but the pain level isn’t enough to stop him from skating.
“It's getting better,” he said. “It's good enough to skate right now so hopefully I can play pretty soon.”
Andersson has missed the past five games. He missed six games in January with a hip flexor injury.
HOME COOKING: With their 5-4 overtime win over Pittsburgh Thursday, the Red Wings improved to 8-0-2 in their last 10 games at Joe Louis Arena. That’s a far cry from how they began the season with a 7-11-7 record on home ice.
“I think over the course of the year we’ve realized more and more how we have to play to have success,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “In saying that, we have a different team now than we did in the beginning of the year, and I think that forces us to play a little differently too.”
Kronwall said many factors are responsible for the Red Wings’ turn-around, including the infusion of young players from Grand Rapids, who haven’t skipped a beat in the NHL.
“Absolutely, there’s a lot of factors,” he said. “We still have things that we need to work on in our game but I think the biggest part is just understanding where we’re at and understanding how we have to play. Really, since the Winter Classic, that the mentality and realizing how we have to play has been there more often.”
EASTERN VIEW: The Red Wings (32-24-13) are now one point behind the Rangers (37-29-4) for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. Detroit has one game in hand, but the Rangers lead in ROW, 33 to 27.
Kronwall said watching the standings while remaining focused on what the Red Wings have to do each night is fun for the players.
“I do both. I’m one of those guys who follows the standings over the course of the year,” he said. “But in saying that, we know that if we do our thing we’ll be just fine.”
BUILDING CONFIDENCE: Beating the Penguins was a huge boost for the young Red Wings, who, on paper at least, probably no right sharing the same ice with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. But four youngsters – Gustav Nyquist (goal, assist), Riley Sheahan (assist), Tomas Tatar (goal) and Danny DeKeyser (two assists) – collected points in the 5-4 win.
Babcock hopes that momentum can carry the Wings into their weekend series with the Minnesota Wild.
“We feel we’re a group that can compete,” Babcock said. “If we stop focusing on the people that aren’t here and focus on those that are and we get them to play at their maximum, really compete hard and play good defensively and get real good goaltending from Howie we have an opportunity. We understand that and that’s what we’re focused on in trying to win tomorrow’s game.”
NOTEBOOK: According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Daniel Alfredsson is the first NHL player to score a last-second goal in overtime since March 10, 2013. His goal with four-tenths of a second left in overtime was his sixth career regular-season OT goal. Alfredsson is also riding a three-game point streak, producing three goals and five points, including back-to-back game-winning goals, this week. … Elias also says Thursday’s victory marks the fifth time in the past three seasons that the Red Wings have scored a winning goal in the final minute of overtime. They most recently did so when Nyquist scored at 4:32 of the extra frame in a 2-1 win at Montreal Feb. 26.
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