A season never goes by when Red Wings coach Mike Babcock isn't thanking his lucky stars for having captain Nicklas Lidstrom patrolling his blue line.
Lidstrom, 39, continues to exude extraordinary confidence and belief in his teammates. And on top of that, he's still having a ball.
"Every year, his game elevates and this year is no different," Babcock said. "Our team was so bad at the start, sometimes we thought Nick's game wasn't near where it should be, but the reality is we didn't have a very good team. Nick is a guy who likes to make plays with the puck, he likes to have good players to pass to. Nick's best games are when we've got a good center to play with, and sometimes, during the first half of the season, that just wasn't possible with the injuries."
Lidstrom, who sports the highest plus-minus rating (plus-433) in the NHL since 1991-92, has produced 39 assists, 48 points and a plus-23 rating in 78 games this season.
"Nick does it right -- he models living right, playing right, working hard and being professional each and every day and he does it in a quiet, humble way that allows your team to do the same," Babcock said. "Because we were so injured on the back (early in the season), we overplayed guys and he was one of them. At (nearly) 40 years of age, especially in the early going in the season, you don't need to be overplayed, but it was just one of those situations."
As the club began regaining its health in early March, however, Lidstrom's game improved, which proved to be a blessing to rookie goalie Jimmy Howard.
"Nick is, I think, the elite of the elite of all time," Babcock said. "He's a great two-way defenseman and understands how the game is to be played. He knows when he should jump offensively and he's got the unbelievable stick defensively."