Wings get their team leader back as Larkin returns from injury
Dylan Larkin celebrates his third-period goal that gave the Wings a 2-1 lead against Toronto Friday night. “He’s going to be a superstar,” says Calgary coach Bill Peters.
It was good news for the Red Wings when Dylan Larkin stepped onto the LCA ice Thursday night even though they lost to the Las Vegas Golden Knights.
Larkin, who missed only one game while nursing a strained left oblique muscle suffered Feb. 1, had two assists to boost his team-leading point total to 51. But’s it not just about numbers with the 22-year-old Waterford native. Larkin is Detroit’s driving force on and off the ice. In fact, the worst kept secret in hockey is that he will be Detroit’s next captain, maybe as soon as next season. In fact, right now he’s an alternate captain during home games.
“I do feel in my fourth year that I have a voice in here,” Larkin told the Detroit Free Press. “I’ve learned from some of the best.”
That includes the previous Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg, who had to retire at the beginning of training camp due to back issues; current teammate Niklas Kronwall, and, for one season, Pavel Datsyuk.
However, while Larkin is not shying away from his responsibilities off the ice, the reason he is in the position to be a leader is his on-ice performance.
“The number one way to assert yourself as a leader is by your approach and your play,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “…The best way for him to lead is through example.”
Larkin, in his second full season playing center, has gone two games without a point only once since Nov. 24, and has 10 multi-point games on an offensively challenged team. He has also been outstanding defensively.
His most impressive game was a 6-4 loss in Calgary on Jan. 18, in which he not only scored two goals but also was clearly the best player on the ice. And that was against a team that features four players – Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Elias Lindholm and Matthew Tkachuk – who are among the NHL’s top 20 scorers this season.
“He’s going to be a superstar,” Calgary coach Bill Peters said about Larkin after the game. “We didn’t have an answer for him.”
Peters is also a former Red Wings assistant coach.
Larkin has also been at his best in the clutch. His four overtime goals this season are tied with the Columbus Blue Jackets Artemi Panarin for most in the NHL.
“The want is always there with him,” Blashill said after Larkin’s overtime goal gave Detroit a 4-3 win over the Nashville Predators on Jan. 4. “He wants the moment. Some guys don’t totally want the moment. He absolutely, 100 percent wants the moment.”
Stepping up in overtime was one of Larkin’s goals coming into the season.
“It’s built for a player like myself and (Andreas Athanasiou) and (Gustav Nyquist),” Larkin said. “There’s a lot of open ice”
Blashill talked about Larkin’s improvement in three-on-three sudden-death play.
“I think the growth process in him has been understanding that you can’t force it, it’s still got to come,” Blashill said. “You try to make plays, you do those things, but it still has to happen. You can’t make it happen necessarily. But I think he’s really grown in that area and that’s why we’ve had more success in the three-on-three this year. He’s played lots and he’s done a great job of managing it.”
Of course, Larkin leads Red Wings forwards in ice time, averaging 21minutes and 55 seconds per game.
“I play a lot of minutes and I appreciate that,” Larkin said. “I don’t take that for granted, so every time I’m out there, I try to do the right things for the team and battle my hardest. That’s what it comes down to for me … getting in the game and effort. I can control those two things.”
And his teammates appreciate it.
“Every night he is our best player. We couldn’t ask for anything more from him,” Luke Glendening told NHL.com. “He’s vocal in the room when he needs to be, but just the way he carries himself, the way he has been playing, is outstanding.”
Wings win without their leading scorer
Detroit of course hopes Larkin will miss only one game while he recovers from his strained left oblique muscle. But the team did fine without him against Ottawa Saturday.
Jonathan Bernier made 35 saves for his first shutout as a Red Wing and the team’s first shutout of the season. It was also Detroit’s third straight win.
Danny DeKeyser, Friday night’s overtime hero, and Darren Helm scored 39 seconds apart in the first period.