DETROIT – Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock didn’t view Justin Abdelkader’s hit on Anaheim defenseman Toni Lydman as illegal.
The league felt otherwise.
Abdelkader, who was given a five-minute major for charging and assessed a game misconduct for the hit that occurred with five minutes left in Game 2 on Saturday, was suspended for two games by the league.
Former Wing Brendan Shanahan is in charge of player safety for the league.
“To me, I watched the hit again and, holy mackerel,” Babcock said before knowing the outcome of Abdelkader’s hearing. “I don’t know what you’re going to be suspended for, but that’s me. You turn the video and pretend that there was contact to the head maybe you can find something, but a guy is gliding, goes through a guy, I don’t know.”
Abdelkader’s hearing lasted 45 minutes with the league.
“None. None,” Babcock said if Abdelkader had any contact with Lydman’s head. “I think it was shoulder to shoulder, bent knees going into a guy and exploding through him. Should be guy saw you coming (and braces) in time. I think if you turn the video and you look at it from (another) angle coming in and you don’t see what is actually happening you can think that, but I don’t see that at all.
“But if I’m coaching them I can find a way to see it different or playing for them,” Babcock continued. “I know we have to protect the athletes, but I also know it’s a physical game. I thought it was pretty good contact.”
Abdelkader did not meet with the media after the game or Sunday.
“It’s a hard thing to talk about when it’s your own teammate,” forward Daniel Cleary said. “Certainly Abby has no history of this. He’s not a guy that targets people. It was a hard hit.
“I think players are a lot more aware (of headshots),” Cleary added. “We’ve all seen the head shots through the last couple of years and especially since Shanny’s come out with his videos and what he deems legal versus illegal. The onus has to fall on the player that’s given the hit and also, you have to protect yourself out there. You have to be aware at all times and sometimes, you can’t. Toni last night didn’t see Abby. I think he came from his blind side maybe. We all agree that we don’t want anyone to get hurt out there, but it’s a fast game and decisions come very quickly.”
With the loss of Abdelkader the Wings have a major problem with their forward units.
“It definitely would be a big loss for us,” goalie Jimmy Howard said. “He’s one of the forwards that uses his speed, gets in on the forecheck and gets in there and bangs for us. He’s not afraid to go to the dirty areas in front of the net and create havoc. So it would definitely be a loss for us.”
When he left the game Saturday, Babcock tried playing Damien Brunner, Gustav Nyquist and Joakim Andersson on the top line with Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk.
“He’s a physical guy and he creates a lot of space and time and me and (Pavel Datsyuk),” said Zetterberg, who added that he fully expected Abdelkader not to be suspended. “He works really hard on the forecheck and gives us the puck and after that he goes to the front of the net and screens the goalie and is there for rebounds. I enjoy playing with him and look forward to playing with him tomorrow.”
They could also move Johan Franzen up front, but that’s not Babcock’s top choice.
“Then we’re kind of a one line team,” Babcock said Saturday. “When you’re really deep and you lose people it’s no big deal. When you’re like us and not as deep it’s a hard thing to deal with.
“It’s not as good,” added Babcock on Saturday. “We don’t have anyone with weight to play there. That’s the bottom line.”
Detroit’s other options would be to breakup Zetterberg and Datsyuk or added Mikael Samuelsson or Todd Bertuzzi, who was a healthy scratch after playing in Game 2, to the line.
“I don’t know what I’m doing,” Babcock said. “I put 23 guys on the sheet and told them all to get ready to play and I’ll decide (Monday). It just bides me some time.”
Defenseman Niklas Kronwall, who’s known for his bone-crushing hits on the ice, hasn’t changed how he delivers checks in the open ice since the league began cracking down on head shots.
“Maybe I hit more with my shoulder blade really than maybe I did in the past,” Kronwall said. “Other than that, I don’t think I’ve tried to change too much. You always try to hit the guy square. If you don’t, you get in trouble. I thought the hit (Saturday), I haven’t seen enough replays as far as the charging aspect of it, but just seeing the brief replay looked like a shoulder to shoulder to me.”
Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau updated Lydman’s condition.
“He’s got a stiff neck and bright lights are bugging him, so I don’t know when that’s not going to be there,” Boudreau said. “So if we’re going minute-by-minute and day-by-day (Monday) is very questionable for him.
“I think it’s a big loss,” Boudreau added. “I mean, he’s played very valuable minutes down the stretch and he’s played in big playoff games in the past whether it was with Anaheim, whether it was with Buffalo, whomever. He doesn’t rattle easily. He’s one of those guys that you don’t see a lot of flash from, but at the end of the day he doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. He’s a very strong individual. We’re hoping that he comes back from this pretty soon. We can use him all of the time.”
Abdelkader is the third Wing to get suspended under Shanahan’s watch.
Defenseman Kyle Quincey was suspended one game last season for a charging incident on Florida’s Tomas Kopecky where he left his feet on the play.
In 2011, defenseman Brendan Smith was suspended eight games, three of which were in the final three games of the preseason, for a check to the head of Chicago’s Ben Smith.