Penguins backed Red Wings' Nicklas Lidstrom as NHL All-Star captain

By HELENE ST. JAMES
FREE PRESS SPORTS WRITER

PITTSBURGH -- Here’s how highly the Pittsburgh Penguins think of Detroit Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom: Both Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang threw their weight behind Lidstrom being one of the captains at the 2011 NHL All-Star Game. And Lidstrom was, in fact, one of the captains announced this morning by the NHL.

“I’m very honored to be selected as captain of a team at the All-Star Game,” Lidstrom said. “It’ll be fun. It’s a different format, and I think it’ll be something exciting for the fans, too, when draft day comes around.”

The other captain will be Eric Staal of the Carolina Hurricanes, who host the Jan. 30 event in Raleigh, N.C. Alternate captains will be announced later.

The NHL is trying a new format for the All-Star Game this season -- usually, it has been the Western Conference against the Eastern Conference, but this year, it’ll be Team Lidstrom against Team Staal.

Lidstrom and Staal were chosen by their fellow NHL All-Stars and will lead the selection process during the fantasy draft Jan. 28 that will determine each team’s roster.

Staal and Lidstrom also will set the lineup for the skills competition Jan 29. The alternate captains will provide input during the draft.

Lidstrom was a popular choice for captain.

“There wasn’t really a vote,” Crosby said this morning, “but yeah, he’d be right there. They just asked about a few guys. I don’t think there was an actual vote; it was more just kind of conversations with guys through the PA (players’ association) rep. He was right at the top of the list.”

Asked whether he endorsed Lidstrom, Crosby replied, “Oh, yeah, for sure.”

So did Letang, who is now hoping Lidstrom will choose him in the draft.

“I vote for Lidstrom and (Zdeno) Chara,” Letang said. “I like Lidstrom. I wish I could play with him. I think he’s the all-time best defenseman.”

Wings coach Mike Babcock joked that Lidstrom had better get some good assistant captains “to share the pressure of that workload, selecting that team. To me, it’s a no-brainer with Nick Lidstrom, just because he’s the most senior guy, and he’s been the best player for the longest time.”

Letang might bring up the possibility of playing with Lidstrom when the Red Wings take on the Penguins at 7 tonight at Consol Energy Center. Crosby will miss the game with a concussion that’s likely to sideline him through the All-Star Game.

While both sides have injuries (the Wings’ injured include Pavel Datsyuk, Danny Cleary, Mike Modano, Tomas Holmstrom and Brad Stuart), any matchup between these two teams is likely to be good.

“Just watching them in practice,” Babcock said, “they do everything so similar, it’s not even funny. I even said to our coaches, right now, their lineup is different than our lineup just with the people that we have out, but structurally, their last two games versus our last two games, they’re better at it than we are. … We’ve got to scratch and claw and stay in the game as long as we can here and find a way to get a win.”

Tonight’s lines for the Wings will start like this:

• Franzen-Zetterberg-Eaves
• Hudler-Filppula-Bertuzzi
• Draper-Helm-Miller
• Mursak-Abdelkader-Tatar

The Penguins' lines look like this:

• Kunitz-Malkin-Dupuis
• Cooke-Staal-Kennedy
• Rupp-Talbot-Conner
• Asham-Letestu-Adams

Asked his thoughts on tonight’s game, Letang said, “They have great depth on their team. All their lines can score goals. Their defense is really active. I think it’s going to be a great test for us, and it’s a good rivalry, too.”

In other news, Wings goalie Jimmy Howard (sore right knee) said he felt better today and is still eyeing a return for Thursday’s game at St. Louis.

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