By Stu Hackel
There were four, count ‘em, four hat tricks in the NHL on Wednesday night, but there is only one Nick Lidstrom, and as his career accomplishments accumulate — they now include his first career three-goal game – it’s appropriate to ask this question: Is the 40-year-old Red Wing not only the greatest defenseman of his era, but the best d-man ever, aside from Bobby Orr?
Orr’s place seems secure. Despite playing less than 700 games due to chronic knee injuries, he revolutionized the game as the prototypical rushing defenseman. Others had done it before him — Lester Patrick, Eddie Shore, Doug Harvey and Red Kelly among them, and all four of them were great Hall of Famers — but none dominated the game to the extent that Orr did with his combination of speed, skill, physicality and determination. He remains the only defenseman to win the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL’s leading scorer and the first to top the 40-goal mark for a season.
What Orr and Lidstrom have in common is the ability to control the puck and the play. But Lidstrom is a different cat. Flashy play has not been his trademark, but no one has ever been more technically sound, efficient in his ability to cut down attackers with uncanny positioning, intelligent in his breakout passing and power play quarterbacking, and precise with his shot. He’s been the one constant in the Red Wings’ non-stop era of consistency that has seen them win 12 division titles (with four second place finishes), six conference championships and four Stanley Cups in the last 16 seasons, and he continues to play at an elite level in his 19th NHL season.
There have been other outstanding all-around defenseman who could belong in the discussion of who might rank second to Orr. Certainly Harvey, Shore, Ray Bourque, Denis Potvin, Larry Robinson and Scott Niedermayer, among others, all dominated at the position for varying lengths of time during their careers. But after being a pillar of all those team successes in Detroit, plus winning the Norris Trophy six times and being runner-up on three more occasions, it’s hard to argue against Lidstrom.
And if he continues his current level of play, he could easily be considered for the Norris this season.
The other hat tricks on Wednesday belonged to the Sabres’ Drew Stafford, the Canucks’ Ryan Kesler and the Avalanche’s Tomas Fleischmann, who seems to have been rejuvenated by his trade from the Capitals two weeks ago. The Caps, who lost in overtime to Anaheim on Wednesday night, their seventh consecutive defeat, have still not won since they dealt Fleischmann for defenseman Scott Hannan, who was on the ice for the OT goal by the Ducks’ Ryan Getzlaf that went though Semyon Varlamov’s legs.
It looked as if Hannan might have been used as a screen by Getzlaf, who had circled out of the corner before getting his shot off, although it was Getzlaf’s move to shake rookie John Carlson in the corner that allowed him to get free. Hannan is now minus-8 in the seven games since the trade, certainly not what he and Caps GM George McPhee envisioned when he was acquired to bring some defensive experience to the team’s blueline corps.
It’s often said that defense is the toughest position for a young NHLer like Carlson, and that it takes much longer than any other to learn its nuances. But Carlson wasn’t the only young d-man who got burned on Wednesday night. The Canadiens’ P.K. Subban, who doesn’t seem to go too long without showing up here in Red Light, was another. He thrilled the Montreal crowd with this big hit on the Flyers’ Dan Carcillo…
But Subban also committed two costly turnovers, one that led to the Flyers’ first goal (video) that was scored by Jeff Carter, who showed great speed in transition, and one that led to the Flyers’ last — by Claude Giroux, (video) who showed his great hands in tight on Carey Price. His goal made it 5-3 and put the game out of reach.
“There were times when I lost my focus out there,” Subban said (quoted in The Montreal Gazette). “I was feeling good and then I’d make a mistake. I’ve been though this before, in junior, in the American League, and I just have to work through it.”
Subban, unlike Lidstrom, plainly tries to do too much at times.
Sharks’ sophomore Jason Demers also has some things to work through after he made a critical error in San Jose’s loss to Nashville. The Predators, who now have pulled in 16 of a possible 18 points in their last nine games (seven wins, two regulation ties), scored two goals in a 44-second span late in the third period to take down the Sharks, 3-2. The winning goal by Colin Wilson…
…was the one that really angered Sharks coach Todd McLellan, who faulted Demers for his decision to pinch deep in the offensive zone rather than retreat. Demers’ gaffe gave the Preds a three-on-one break, and the fact that, at 21, he’s the Sharks youngest player didn’t put McLellan in a forgiving mood.
“He’s in the NHL. Young, old, it doesn’t matter,” McLellan fumed (quoted in the San Jose Mercury News. “He’s in the NHL. That’s a situation that you have to read.”
Even Nick Lidstrom made some mistakes as a young player. Maybe.