Detroit -- The return of a legend can be a complicated affair, especially his first time back. Leave it to Nick Lidstrom to handle it flawlessly.
It was no muss-no fuss Wednesday at Joe Louis Arena, as one of the greatest players in the history of the game and one of the greatest Red Wings of all time arrived back in town.
Low key is an understatement. This return was nearly anonymous.
Until the 14-minute mark of the third period, few if any in the sold-out crowd knew Lidstrom was in the building.
The guy who won eight Norris trophies as the best defenseman in the game and who scored or assisted on more than one-in-five of the Wings' goals (21.4 percent) during his 20-year career, barely made a ripple, until his presence was announced, along with that of Tomas Holmstrom, with six minutes left to play.
They were both sitting in the owners' box, barely visible.
Lidstrom waved, soberly. Holmstrom smiled his effusive smile, from ear to ear.
Having delayed his "night," due to the lockout, the shortened season and the lack of time to plan almost anything, if Lidstrom were to appear at Joe Louis Arena this season it would not be the gala night to remember.
That is going to be fun, and probably a little teary-eyed and goose-bumpy. But it comes next season.
All new Red Wings
His return came as almost everything about this season occurs in the context of Lidstrom's absence. Questions abound about the effectiveness of the defense in the Red Wings' zone; generating offense by moving the puck up ice, with dispatch; the fragility of the 21-season playoff streak, the less-than-productive power play and the changing leadership of the most successful franchise in the NHL for the past 15 years.
But leaders of the team keep steering the attention back to the emergence of a new Wings team, and the former captain and future Hall of Famer seemed to signal he knows, too, that is the priority.
And so, he was not around under the stands before the game, at least not in any way the media could know. The Wings staff said all day that they had no information about his arrival, or if he would make himself available.
It was as if Lidstrom had made yet another leadership decision, even after he has stopped leading the Wings.
He was not going to become the focus of attention, with an important fourth game in a tight sequence with their formidable divisional rival.
It was as if Lidstrom demonstrated in the most forceful way that the fans' longings for those days gone by should not be misconstrued for anything but fine memories, making their journey toward legend and nostalgia. Because these are the Red Wings of Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Niklas Kronwall and Jimmy Howard.
From flash to grind
These are not the pretty-passing, seamless-offense Red Wings, for whom the puck moved from their end to scoring position in a flash.
This is a lot more workmanlike. This is the Wings grinding out victories.
It's not the sterling precision of Lidstrom. But, so far, it's working a lot better, perhaps, than many fans expected.
They did blow a 2-0 lead Wednesday, which simply is not done much. But they fought back to tie it at three, and they garnered a point.
"It's real simple here," coach Mike Babcock said. "We have to play with great competition level, great structure and great attention to detail. We had it going, and we came off it big time in the second period, stopped putting puck in and started turning them over. And we wound up getting one point, instead of two points."
And, on that road, it would have seemed incongruous for Lidstrom to arrive back in Hockeytown as a distraction.
The most panicky moment, so far, of the first season without Lidstrom occurred right at the start, when the Blues beat them, 6-0. It gave some of the older fans a quick reminder of how things looked before Steve Yzerman and others arrived to save the franchise from The Dead Things era.
In truth, it was pretty scary.
But they are a long way from that, now.
It might not be what their fans grew accustomed to for a couple of decades, but it's progress. And that's critical, right now.
They can stand on their own, without Lidstrom. They can even win, without Lidstrom.
And the sense was, on his first night back in Hockeytown, that one of the greatest players ever wanted to leave his former team to the tasks at hand.