Game 15: Red Wings-Edmonton Enotes

Darren Helm

Welcome back, Darren Helm!

Or should we say, welcome back, Darren Helm’s back.

And groin. And whatever else has been ailing the speedy, talented forward.

Helm is exactly what the Red Wings need now. Hell, he’s exactly what 29 other NHL teams need. There aren’t too many players like him.

Helm scored what turned out to be the winning goal in Edmonton, being sprung on a breakaway five minutes into Saturday night’s game, burying the puck past Oilers goalie Richard Bachman for a 1-0 lead. Detroit won, 5-0.

The Red Wings are now 3-0 on this 4-game western road trip, and they seemed to have left their baggage at Metro Airport. Only 14 Oilers shots made their way to rookie goalie Petr Mrazek. The 40-shot nightmare against the NY Rangers in their last home game at JLA is like a distant memory.

But back to Helm, no pun intended, for it was Helm’s touchy back that shelved him for all but one game in the truncated 2013 season.

“It was the icing on top of the cake, really,” Helm said of his goal. “The relief came after the game, knowing that I could still play. The goal was just a nice addition to that. I was really excited.

“It was one of the nicest moments I have had in a while, since this injury bug started. I was pretty nervous. I was pretty anxious and eager to get out there,” Helm added.

I remember speaking to Helm during Media Day prior to the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals. Not long before, Helm had scored the GWG in overtime to clinch the WCF against Chicago.

He was less than 48 hours from having scored the biggest goal of his life, yet Helm spoke so softly I could barely hear him. But what struck me was that he was the kind of kid you hope your daughter brings home.

But it’s not just that Helm is a nice guy. His speed, instincts for the puck and relentless forechecking are elements that the 2013 Red Wings missed badly.

Injuries hit Helm hard over the past two years, so here’s hoping he’s back in the lineup to stay.

Here’s coach Mike Babcock on Helm, as spoken following the win in Edmonton: “Helmer gives a huge dimension of talent that we can take advantage of if he is healthy,” the coach said. “He can be dominant. To see him do what he did tonight, I thought he played very well.”

BOTTOM LINE: A chance for a 4-0 trip seemed highly unlikely when the team left Detroit. Now it seems like a foregone conclusion, the way the Red Wings have tightened the screws defensively.

THE WINGED WHEELER SAYS: Don’t look now, but the Old Man, forward Daniel Alfredsson, is getting on a bit of a scoring roll. Now, if fellow free agent signee Stephen Weiss could follow suit, that would be great. More production from the fourth line—Tomas Tatar, Joakim Andersson and Justin Abdelkader were on the ice for two more goals—is sure to make Babcock’s steel jaw relax.

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Spotlight on the Opponent: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

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If you believe in sophomore jinxes and are a hockey fan, then you know all about Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

Nugent-Hopkins, the Edmonton Oilers’ No. 1 pick (and No. 1 overall) in the 2011 Entry Draft, dazzled folks in his rookie season, as an 18-year-old. N-H had 18 goals and 52 points in just 62 games. He averaged almost 18 minutes of ice time per game and was praised effusively for his playmaking ability.

Then came his sophomore season, which was also the lockout-shortened 2013 campaign. Things didn’t go so well for RN-H, as he tallied just four goals in 40 games, though he did get credit for 20 assists. But that can happen, especially to teenagers playing in the NHL.

But if you believe in sophomore jinxes/slumps, then when it comes to N-H, you have to believe in junior achievement as well.

This is N-H’s junior year in the NHL, and so far so good.

Nugent-Hopkins leads the Oilers in scoring, with 4/6/10, and his ice time has risen to over 21:00 per game.

Maybe N-H truly is blessed this season, because last week in Los Angeles, he avoided serious injury when he took a knee from the Kings’ Kyle Clifford.

“(Clifford) stuck out his knee. We all hold our breaths when that happens,” said Oilers coach Dallas Eakins.

RN-H is 6’1″, 190 and like most young players who are drafted high because of their scoring knack, he is a work in progress defensively. Currently he is minus-9 for the Oilers, who at 3-9-2 are once again among the Western Conference’s bottom feeders.

But there is no question that RN-H is bouncing back in the scoring column after a frustrating sophomore year.

“It’s different your second season, because your role changes,” N-H recently told the Edmonton Sun“It really causes a confidence problem. It doesn’t help your confidence at all.”

But it looks like the confidence is back.

Nugent-Hopkins wears no. 93 for Edmonton.