Red Wings perfect winning formula

Dave McIntosh (right) speaks with legendary Red Wing Ted Lindsay in the concourse of Joe Louis...

Dave McIntosh (right) speaks with legendary Red Wing Ted Lindsay in the concourse of Joe Louis Arena prior to the start of the Wings game against the Edmonton Oilers in Detroit on Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2012. (Derek Ruttan/QMI Agency)

RYAN PYETTE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:15 PM ET

DETROIT - The most intimidating guy inside the toughest NHL rink to win in is surrounded by security at a table in the Joe Louis Arena concourse, where he's selling books, autographs and memories for 35 bucks.

Ted Lindsay is 86 years old, still pumps iron every day and, with something that sounds like a cross between a snarl and a chuckle, puts his finger on the crux of how the Detroit Red Wings remain hockey's most remarkable team.

"You play together and control the puck the way they do, you control the game," Terrible Ted barked. "When they don't have it, they fight like hell to recover. It goes down the line -- ownership, management, coaching and the talent. You need the players. Detroit was the first team scouting in Europe, back when everyone thought a hockey player had to be from Canada.

"They keep finding the players they need to win."

That's why everyone hates playing them.

The Wings are Stanley Cup contenders again, forging yet another 100-point season, putting together a potentially record-breaking home campaign -- all in what can be argued is the toughest division in hockey.

You might not get bopped on the head at Joe Louis Arena, but you're going to end up feeling sore and, most visits, frustrated.

Wings fans show up expecting wins, effort and elan, not fisticuffs, though most of them rose from their seats with a Probert-like roar when gritty Justin Abdelkader traded punches with Edmonton's Ryan Jones on Wednesday night.

"I'll stick up for my teammates every time, but that (fighting) isn't us," Abdelkader said quietly after Detroit's 18th straight victory on home ice. "We battle for every inch out there. We're physical in that way and if you face that all game, it's going to take a toll. You hear other guys on teams say that's what makes it so tough to play us."

Down two men on a penalty kill Wednesday, big Detroit defenceman Jonathan Ericsson, the 291st and last pick of the 2002 draft, managed to bulldoze the puck over the blue line and out. Head coach Mike Babcock jolted forward and enthusiastically applauded the play.

"That's an example of it (team toughness) right there," Abdelkader said.

A level of the rink below Lindsay, hard-hitting Wings veteran defender Niklas Kronwall surveys his team's plush dressing room. Pavel Datsyuk, perhaps the best player in hockey, jokes about the size of his head and 41-year-old captain Nicklas Lidstrom dances around questions on whether the Wings-Leafs Winter Classic tilt at the Big House will tempt him back another season.

Recent Super Bowl ads with rapper Eminem and movie star Clint Eastwood paint Detroit as the embodiment of the beat up and battered American spirit, determined to rise again and beat the odds.

Kronwall feels like he's playing here with a stacked deck.

"I never once felt like an underdog or that we were going into a game we wouldn't win," said the veteran of 441 NHL games, all with the Wings. "We believe in here if we do what we're supposed to do, it's going to work.

"It's been that way for a long time. It starts with Sweden (Lidstrom), he's a great leader, and Stevie (Yzerman) before. Guys come in, you see the kind of people you're working with, the team gives you everything you could ask for, and it's easy to fit in, play well and want to stay."

He might as well have been talking about Ian White, who went from Toronto to Calgary, Carolina, San Jose -- to end up as Lidstrom's partner on the blue line this year.

"I've learned so many things just from being around him and talking to him," White said. "What has he learned from me? Nothing."

Lidstrom will, during TV timeouts and breaks in action, calmly point out to fellow D-men fine details on positioning and decision-making.

"You have a media following and a large interest in hockey here," White said, "but it's not as tense as it in some other places."

There are worries, of course, in Hockeytown.

The Wings lost their all-star starting goalie Jimmy Howard to a broken finger. Henrik Zetterberg, one of the best forwards in the game, isn't scoring much this year, and hasn't the foggiest idea what's wrong.

That level of uncertainty would sink most teams in other markets.

Not the Wings.

Someone else -- 39-year-old Tomas Holmstrom, greying-before-his-time Drew Miller, big veteran Todd Bertuzzi, who engages in comical morning skate stare-downs with the much-smaller Jiri Hudler -- gets it done.

"That's the team we aspire to be," Edmonton's sudden scoring star Sam Gagner said. "It's pretty special what they've been able to do the past 20 years. It seems like they've always been good. We feel like we have the pieces in here to do it. It's just a matter of time to make it happen."

It starts, as always, at the top.

"We have the best (general) manager in the game," Babcock said of Ken Holland. "You look what he's been able to accomplish and sustain here. He's a first-ballot Hall of Famer."

Holland, of course, brings it back to his coach's ability to stir a delicious stew out of the ingredients provided.

He's not alone.

Legendary former Red Wing and Maple Leaf Red Kelly, regarding Babcock's success, told a story of a time when he went overseas to visit troops and, along the way, ended up giving some coaching tips to a Japanese hockey team.

"They were willing to learn and I had them set up for a faceoff and gave each of them instructions to follow," Kelly said, "and when the puck was dropped, they did exactly what I told them. That's something I probably couldn't do that with a team of Canadians. The players would have their own ideas on where they should be and what they were supposed to do.

"You watch Detroit and Mike has them playing as a unit. When they pass the puck, they hardly ever give it away. You end up chasing it all game. That's a team."

After winning the Olympic gold in Vancouver, Babcock said the biggest challege of his coaching career came when he was 24 and had to keep the thirsty Whitley Warriors, a top team in England, out of the pub the night before games.

That was intimidating.

His Wings?

Every year, there's a chance to drink from the Stanley Cup.

ryan.pyette@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/RyanAtLFPress


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