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Leading by example: Nick Lidstrom may be playing the best regular-season hockey he’s ever played

The Red Wings won perhaps their most important hockey game played in November in a good ten years via a 5-0 win over a tired Anaheim Ducks team on Saturday night, and if the usual suspects played into the winning effort: Jimmy Howard stopped 22 shots and while padding stellar statistics and continuing to shine when the Wings’ confidence wanes; while he didn’t register an a point, Tomas Holmstrom stirred the drink on the power play via both superb screening, puck-tipping and rebound retrieval, and he added four shots and two takeaways to the Wings’ cause while continuing to prove his worth at even strength (who the hell knew that the Wings’ fleet-footed third and fourth-liners occasionally need a 38-year-old to slowly but authoritatively carry the puck up ice to slow down the pace of play?)...

And then there was the captain.

Nicklas Lidstrom registered an assist on the game’s second goal before scoring two breathing room goals of his own, and in a battle of the best 41-year-olds in the league, Lidstrom played a far more active role in the Wings’ offense and defense than Teemu Selanne, continuing to jump into the play—especially on the power play—like Steve Yzerman used to, sneaking up to the left wing half boards or even the slot when necessary before seamlessly sliding back to his defensive position, registering an increasingly common hit as well as a blocked shot in addition to taking two of his own, displaying a slow but steady return to that one-handed stick checking dominance he one held over every opposing forward prior to tearing a tendon in his right elbow two years ago, sealing off the sides of the net with his feet and stick (you’ll notice that every Red Wings defenseman essentially plays “goalie” on wraparounds and side-of-the-net plays these days) to prevent lateral passes in the slot or from behind the net, and plain old displaying the kind of speed I’m not sure anyone knew his legs still possessed going forwards and backwards, matching his lateral mobility with what seems like a gained skating stride at an age where players are supposed to move more like Larry Murphy than a faster player than they were at 30 (and did I mention that 2:27 of his 21-plus minutes were spent killing penalties?).

I know that if you’ve watched Fox Sports Detroit’s Wings broadcasts, you’ve probably heard Ken Daniels say that Lidstrom’s playing like he’s 28 at least half a dozen dozen times, but it bears repeating: Lidstrom’s five goals and five assists over the course of twelve games are tied for the team lead with Johan “I had a goal and two assists against the Ducks, too” Franzen, and during the Wings’ six-game losing streak, Lidstrom’s been the only skater playing better, more consistently and with more confidence, determination, a harder work ethic and a higher standard of play than Holmstrom or Howard. The captain’s been on the ice for more than a few goals against because he plain old plays so many crucial minutes for the team, but aside from the goal he tipped past Ty Conklin in Columbus, he’s made few mistakes, and…How do I put this?

I started following the Wings when Nicklas Lidstrom and Vladimir Konstantinov were fresh-faced rookies, and in my 20 years as a Wings fan, I’ve only seen Lidstrom play this dominantly in the regular season one or two other times (he’s played more dominant hockey in the playoffs, but that’s to be expected). On a team clearly suffering from an identity crisis and something of a crisis in leadership, the captain’s taken the team on his back and has remained relentlessly, if not sometimes infuriatingly (from the perspective of fans like you and me) positive, insisting that the team’s trademark style of puck possession hockey need not be thrown out, but instead, better, more consistently and more effectively followed, with detail work, a higher standard of play and plain old execution being the only obstacles separating a floundering team from the early-season success we’re used to witnessing.

He’s never shirked from microphones or cameras during this stretch, either, stepping up after every loss and practice to insist that the ship may have sprung a leak, but would do nothing more than slightly list on his watch.

After tonight’s win, he offered more of the same to DetroitRedWings.com’s Bill Roose:

“I thought we had great effort for 60-minutes,” said Nicklas Lidstrom, who had two goals and an assist. “I thought we stuck with it, even after the first period when we were up 1-0. We told ourselves that we had to stick with the game plan, and keep shooting the puck and keep spending time in their zone, and I thought we were able to do that tonight.”

During a stretch of play which we might as well start calling, “Must-win Movember,” the Wings finally got off the schneid and at least began their long climb out of the Central Division’s nether regions. Tonight’s win certainly won’t mean much if the Wings don’t sweep the final three games of their home stand and find a way to roll through a http://redwings.nhl.com/club/schedule.htm”>mid-month West Coast swing, but this was a start, and the man who’s played like more than Norris Nick—more like Hart and Soul Nick—through the team’s most trying times ensured that the Wings had the breathing room to pound the road-weary Ducks with 5 confidence-building goals, 50 shots and another seventeen attempted shots while finally holding their opposition to under 40 shots and attempts.

The Wings probably won’t admit that even Lidstrom’s likely tested the staying power of the paint in the locker room over the past two weeks, nor that a few players somewhat unaccustomed to that kind of standing up and holding themselves accountable have attempted to do the same, but even when the result’s been lacking, there is no question whatsoever that the team’s most senior member has weathered the storm with the most grace, courage and poise.

He’s Nick Lidstrom, and he’s played like the superstar and fantastic leader he remains—maybe the best I’ve ever seen him play during his 20 seasons in red and white—and as long as he’s able to lace up his skates he’s going to make damn sure that the media’s desire to watch the Wings finally fall from grace remains unfulfilled.

As a sidebar, I want to give a “shout out” to Nick Barnowski, who won the Red Wings’ High School Journalism contest and spent today at the Joe, posting several updates on his blog as he tailed USA Today’s Kevin Allen and Roose, filing a story about Ducks defenseman and Farmington Hills native Cam Fowler.

Fowler’s a fine defenseman who’s going to star in the league for the next decade or two, but on Saturday he just happened to finish a -4 in 27:50 of ice time. He did so in no small part due to the fact that he and Francois Beauchemin went head-to-head with Lidstrom and Ian White and he was on the ice during three of the four goals which Lidstrom played a part in scoring. Not bad given that Lidstrom’s 22 years older than a one-time fan of the Wings and #5.

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NickLidstrom's avatar

I love myself

Posted by NickLidstrom from a Higher Ground on 11/06/11 at 06:49 AM ET


I was wondering if I was the only one who saw Homer fighting for that puck.  Glad that someone was interested in stepping up.  Lidstrom is still Lidstrom until he chooses not to be (hopefully in 3 years).

Posted by sloaner on 11/06/11 at 06:52 AM ET

MsRedWinger's avatar

Nick and Homer are showing the rest of the team that there’s no excuse for not giving it all every game. Amazing guys, those two and how sweet to wake up this morning still smiling from last night. Great post, George.

cool smile

Posted by MsRedWinger from the State where Tigers roam in the Spring on 11/06/11 at 10:09 AM ET

Jeff  OKWingnut's avatar

Excellent post George, great observation.  And glad to see you back at it.

Posted by Jeff OKWingnut from Quest for 12 on 11/06/11 at 01:48 PM ET

J.J. from Kansas's avatar

Also worth noting.  I know that individual Corsi doesn’t say as much as team scores do, but Lidstrom spent more time against the Ryan-Getzlaf-Perry line (you know, the most dangerous line in the league last season?) and he came out a +18 in events while none of those three were better than a -12.

A lot of credit goes to the forwards there, but Lidstrom was absolutely superb at shutting them down.  I especially noticed how well he stifled Corey Perry.

Posted by J.J. from Kansas on 11/06/11 at 01:55 PM ET


Short memory George?
Last year, Lidstrom was absolutely dominant to start the season. He was more lethal than I can remember than at any point in his career.

Posted by Captain Bob on 11/06/11 at 10:54 PM ET

George Malik's avatar

Nick’s getting bonus points from me because he’s doing the kinds of things he doesn’t normally do—pinch when it’s risky, take big chances to sneak into the slot (i.e. like his first goal on Saturday) because no one else is there, open or willing to go, block more shots, take penalties to stop scoring chances when the team’s going down the tubes confidence-wise, etc.—at a time when no one else seems to be willing or able to step up and lead.

Nick was racking up points and a fantastic plus-minus at a point-per-game rate last year at this time, but he wasn’t the team’s co-leader in scoring when the ship was badly listing then.

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 11/07/11 at 12:30 AM ET

AndrewFromAnnArbor's avatar

Lidstrom is still Lidstrom until he chooses not to be (hopefully in 3 years).

Naw.  As a first-ballot HOF lock, he’ll be a legend and will still be Lidstrom long after he’s shuffled off this mortal coil.

I said it in A2Y, I’ll say it here.  There are the kind of statement games you win 5-0, and there are the kind of STATEMENT games where you make a Finn, one of the most placid and imperturbable nationalities out there, flip the f*ck out.  Now THAT’S a statement.  And I know it’s only one game, but it was great to see.  Now string some wins together like they’re cranberries and popcorn, and we got us a team again.

Still, strange to see #5 start strong two seasons in a row; that’s not traditionally been his strong suit.  Long may it continue.

Posted by AndrewFromAnnArbor from Fortress Europe on 11/08/11 at 07:40 AM ET

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The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.