May 6, 2013 at 1:00 am

Gregg Krupa

Red Wings' Justin Abdelkader sorry for hit, and it's no act

Detroit — That Brendan Shanahan suspended him, just as Justin Abdelkader is playing a bit like the power forward the Red Wings have never quite replaced, is irony enough.

The 6-foot-1, 212-pound former Spartan leads the Wings in shots (11) and hits (seven) entering Game 4 on Monday night against the Ducks.

Been a while since they had a guy like that, eh?

Beyond irony bordering on satire, however, is the fact the Wings have no clear replacement for Abdelkader six weeks after a lot of observers were incredulous at his presence alongside Pavel Datsyuk.

But, fortunately, a bold coach in search of a semblance of offense and the wisdom of Datsyuk, knowing he needed someone to "pull the piano," carried the day.

Mike Babcock later gave a wry smile and joked, "I don't know. I just try to get 'Pavs' what he wants."

It was good humor stirred with modesty.

On the radar

Abdelkader had no goals when he put one in an empty net late at Edmonton on March 7.

Then Datsyuk twice used him almost like an object for deflections in Vancouver one night, and Abdelkader was credited with two goals.

"Just happy to be there for Pavs," Abdelkader said, nearly laughing at himself at his dressing stall that night. "Whatever he needs."

Then came the hat trick, double digits in goals for the first time in his four seasons and — thanks in no small part to him — the playoffs. Now the commentators all say the Red Wings not only will miss him, he is integral to their attack.

Rarely have so many gained so much respect for one hockey player in such short time

But what others may have learned further Monday is something learned around Michigan in Abdelkader's days in green and white at Munn Ice Arena: The man from Muskegon is a good guy.

And he has character in significant supply.

When he approached the microphone Monday on the dais set up in the media lounge of Joe Louis Arena, it was not the smiling, amiable Abdelkader.

He was serious, almost somber.

"On Saturday, there was no intent to injure," he said, haltingly at first. "I don't need to injure anyone, put anyone in harm, you know?

"I have respect for everyone who plays in this hockey league. It's a privilege that we get to play in the NHL.

"I play a hard game. I play physical and, you know, it's a fast game; things happen really fast out there."

He said he wishes the man he hit — a hit for which he was suspended for two games by the NHL — Toni Lydman, "is back right away. It was an unfortunate play."

Yes, unfortunate because Lydman hurt his head, and we know a lot more about head injuries and concussions these days, and what we have learned recently is not good. Hence the new emphasis on protecting players, which means hits that might have resulted in two minutes in the box for charging now result in major and match penalties as well as "supplementary discipline" under Rule 28 from the league.

Pure respect

So Abdelkader talked about respect.

And make no mistake, Abdelkader does not do performance. He is pure Michigan: Genuine, self-possessed and more interested in impressing parents and family than folks up and down the block, let alone you, me or the national media.

If your center is as solid as Justin Abdelkader, it is not a question of thinking how to act, because there is no act. And, if there was, it would not be different, high or low.

Integrity means you are the same fellow, goals or no goals, hero or goat, lionized or disregarded.

That is why, after expressions of acknowledgement, regret and good sportsmanship, Abdelkader's next assertions were about remedy and resolve.

"Obviously, you've got to be smart about it," he said, of his physical play. "As much as you can, even if you are trying as hard as you can and targeting the shoulder, you've got to get really low on the hits, you can't target anywhere near the head."

Then, he was all about the responsibility he feels to his mates.

"I haven't slept too good last night, and I had to think about it the night before. It's going to be tough. Obviously you want to be out there, helping your team out, doing whatever you can to get wins.

"I feel bad already about the effect it had on the last game. Unfortunately, maybe it was the turning point. I don't know.

"But I felt bad about it already, and now I've got to sit two games. So it's going to be tough. But I'll be in there supporting and being the biggest cheerleader."

Many hope they have not seen the last of Abdelkader this season, and that, regardless, when they see him again, he will skate between Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg.

Justin Abdelkader leads the Wings in shots (11) and hits (seven) entering Game 4 on Monday night against the Ducks. He's serving the first of a two-game suspension. / Daniel Mears/Detroit News