With Dylan Larkin back, Detroit Red Wings ready to 'eat any point' on 5-game road trip

The Detroit Red Wings head on the road with something they've lacked: Their captain and their confidence.

Dylan Larkin's return after a nearly three-week injury layoff helped the Wings pack a two-game winning streak as they face their last, longest trip of the season. They're coming home after Saturday's game at the Nashville Predators but only to practice for a day before leaving again. They've lost five straight games on the road, but those were all without Larkin.

"It's unbelievable the difference," coach Derek Lalonde said after Thursday's 6-3 victory over the New York Islanders at Little Caesars Arena. "Maybe shame on our group, shame on the staff, not getting more out of the group with Dylan out, but it’s just it’s unbelievable the difference when everyone is slotted where they should be.

"Quality win, huge positive. We needed it. It’s even more important with the type of road trip we have ahead of us. This is one of those stretches where you just look at it, you’re going to be up against it — five-game road trip, and the caliber of opponents. But there’s some momentum with this, and there’s a little confidence with the group getting Dylan back and everybody slotting correctly."

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Detroit Red Wings center Dylan Larkin (71) celebrates his empty net goal against the New York Islanders in the third period at Little Caesars Arena on Thursday, March 21, 2024, in Detroit, Michigan.
Detroit Red Wings center Dylan Larkin (71) celebrates his empty net goal against the New York Islanders in the third period at Little Caesars Arena on Thursday, March 21, 2024, in Detroit, Michigan.

The Wings play at Washington on Tuesday, Carolina on Thursday, Florida on March 30 and Tampa Bay on April 1. Everyone one of those teams is battling for playoff positioning; either to secure their spot in the standings, or, in the Capitals' case, trying to claw into the picture. But with Larkin back, the Wings look in much better shape to handle those challenges.

"He means everything to this team," Christian Fischer said. "You see every guy competing a little bit harder having the presence of Larks back there. It’s huge for this group. You saw it the last three weeks of us slipping a bit, that played a factor into it. Emotionally, you’re missing your horse."

The Wings went 2-6 while Larkin recovered from a lower-body injury. Larkin called having to sit and watch, "extremely challenging but I think we’re all in this together. Every season is long and things happen and whatnot. We have a special group and we showed it. I never question our care or how much guys care for each other and the team in that room and I knew we would come out of this and turn it around."

Larkin didn't get clearance from team trainers until Thursday afternoon. By then, Lalonde had given up on trying to freshen up.

"I myself, who have not slept a lot during this losing streak, you can see the bags under my eyes, those are real," Lalonde said. "I always get an afternoon nap just to refresh. I couldn’t sleep."

The Wings (36-28-6) have 12 games left, eight of them on the road.

"Maybe it’s on me to avoid matchups, but we’ve been so easily checked without Dylan on the road," Lalonde said. "We’re an easy matchup team without Dylan, right, wrong or indifferent. That’s not an excuse. We could have done better on the road without Dylan, but it helps. It gives us four lines, everyone slotted correctly.

"It’s just going to start one game at a time. We’v got an opportunity against Nashville, but we’ve got to try to eat any point we can get on this road trip."

Contact Helene St. James at hstjames@freepress.com. Follow her @helenestjames.

Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her latest book, “On the Clock: Behind the Scenes with the Detroit Red Wings at the NHL Draft,” is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Dylan Larkin's return stokes Detroit Red Wings in time for road trip