Detroit Red Wings: Nicklas Lidstrom's Injury Gives Glimpse of Life Without Him

Matt HutterAnalyst IMarch 18, 2012

GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 06:  Nicklas Lidstrom #5 of the Detroit Red Wings during the NHL game against the Phoenix Coyotes at Arena on February 6, 2012 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Red Wings 3-1.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

For those who've never had the pleasure of suffering a bone bruise before, let me tell you, it's a hell of a thing.

Most physicians will tell you that, in terms of healing and rehabilitation, it can be worse than an actual break.

When you break a bone, your doctor can pursue a tried and true course of treatment, ensure the healing process is managed properly and give you a fairly accurate timetable for full recovery.

A bone bruise, on the other hand, is far less predictable.

The pain can last days or months.

The treatment, minimal at best, can lessen the pain or do nothing at all.

You can feel you're just about ready to feel good again one day, and feel worse than you did before the next.

There is no way to know just how long the suffering will last.  That, more than anything else, becomes incredibly taxing on your emotions and your mind.

Such is the case with the Detroit Red Wings and Nicklas Lidstrom's career-long injury.

Since the Red Wings captain sustained his bone bruise, nine games ago, the Red Wings have gone 3-5-1, the worst record of any team currently in the playoff picture.

In fact, it is only the team's previous dominance on home ice, and the 46 points they amassed during their 23-game winning streak, that has them as high as fourth in the conference.

With the competition in their division and the entire Western Conference as tough as it is, the Red Wings can no longer keep their playoff position alive by feeding on those points they held in reserve via their home winning streak.

What's more, with the (still totally surprising) St. Louis Blues the first team in the league to clinch a playoff berth via a 100-point record which is giving them an eight-point lead over the Wings in the Central Division, the hope of a top-three finish is quickly vanishing for Detroit.

Only a monumental winning record by Detroit, combined with an equally monumental losing record by St. Louis will enable the Wings to win the division at this point.

That's sobering news considering Detroit was tops in the league just a mere four weeks ago.

Regardless of their chances of finish as division winners, the Red Wings need to start winning—now.

The well-documented problem is they will have to do so amidst a rash of key injuries that seems to almost be an annual event in Hockeytown.

Aside from Lidstrom, the Wings have been without Pavel Datsyuk, Todd Bertuzzi, Jonathan Ericsson, Jakub Kindl and Jimmy Howard for long stretches over the previous month.

Though Datsyuk, Bertuzzi and Howard are back in action, the Wings have simply replaced their spots on the injured list with Darren Helm, Johan Franzen and Joey MacDonald.

The Wings can ill-afford to lose players of this caliber for very long and hope to win, yet, that's just what they'll plan to do in the immediate future.

As difficult as losing players like Franzen and Helm is, it's the loss and uncertain return of Lidstrom that is having the greatest impact on team success.

Now, before you respond with, "Well, duh, he's their best player, their best defenseman and their captain," let me say that while that is all certainly true, the real reason Lidstrom's absence is having a very negative effect on the team goes beyond the immediate or the obvious.

It's been no secret that this season might very well be Lidstrom's last in the NHL.

Still, the worrying about "will he or won't he" has stayed safely in the back of most everyone's mind, teammates and fans alike, all season long.

In Detroit, having Lidstrom on your blueline has been akin to having the sun rise in the morning—it's something you expect to the extent you never think to question it.

However, now, that familiar and peerless position has been vacated for nine games, the longest since it was occupied over 20 years ago.

It might stay vacant another nine games, it might be filled tomorrow, there's few ways to know which might be true.

What is true is the team that has been forced to move on without him is likely finding those long banished thoughts of life without Lidstrom creeping further and further towards the front of their collective minds.

As a result, the team has exhibited a flat, sometimes panicky, often erratic style of play for the better part of those nine Lidstrom-less games.

It's not simply the loss of their captain and top defender that's caused this, it is the loss of the team's very identity.

At this point, the Detroit Red Wings don't know how to be the Detroit Red Wings without Lidstrom.

They all knew that, someday, they'd have to figure out how to do this, but they were hoping that day wouldn't be for a good, long while; they certainly didn't expect that day to come as soon as it has.

Like the bone bruise Lidstrom is struggling to come back from, the Red Wings are suffering from an injury with no real treatment, no manageable course of healing and no timetable for recovery.

They will, much like Lidstrom himself, be forced to limp along until such time as they can function once more as the team the hockey world has known for two decades.

A team that, for now, can barely recognize itself.

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