The Detroit Red Wings' debut in the Eastern Conference was a smashing success.
Mikael Samuelsson and Pavel Datsyuk scored and Jimmy Howard made 19 saves to lead the Red Wings to a 2-1 win against the Buffalo Sabres at Joe Louis Arena on Wednesday night. It was the first game for Detroit since shifting to the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference as part of the NHL's realignment.
"I thought we got off to a great start there," Howard said. "We took a lot of penalties, so we're going to have to clean that up, especially early on in the year here, where it seems like it's more tightly called."
Zemgus Girgensons scored and Ryan Miller made 32 saves for the Sabres, who went 0-for-7 on the power play in their season debut, including two 5-on-3 man advantages.
"We were right there all night," Miller said. "We got in a position to tie. I think we were improving as the game went on."
Detroit raced to a 2-0 lead with two goals in a span of 36 seconds midway through the first period. Samuelsson opened the scoring at 12:05 when he redirected Cory Emmerton's shot past Miller for the Red Wings' first goal of the season.
"Tonight, I thought our line did a real good job and obviously Sammy made an unbelievable tip there," Emmerton said. "As a fourth line, your job is to be hard on teams, have the puck more than them and make it hard for them and when you score goals that just helps the team. I think we did a real good job tonight."
Datsyuk doubled Detroit's lead at 12:41 when he intercepted rookie Rasmus Ristolainen's pass in the Sabres' zone at the left circle, deked his way into the slot and ripped a backhander past Miller to make it 2-0.
The Red Wings, who've won 12 of their last 13 games against Buffalo at Joe Louis Arena, outshot the Sabres 8-6 in the first period.
Detroit believed it had grabbed a 3-0 lead with 8:35 left in the second period when Todd Bertuzzi poked a puck from the slot past Miller. But Red Wings forward Daniel Cleary bumped Miller on the play and was whistled for goalie interference.
"I didn't like killing as much as we did, obviously," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "They had two long 5-on-3s, but I thought we were aggressive and didn't give them much zone time. They were under pressure when they were in our zone, so that's a positive thing for us. We had lots of forwards contributing, obviously. Howie was good."
Emmerton then had a glorious opportunity to put the Red Wings up by three goals when he was awarded a penalty shot with 7:41 left in the second after being pulled down on a breakaway by Sabres defenseman Christian Ehrhoff. But Miller denied Emmerton's wrist shot to keep it a 2-0 game.
Buffalo finally solved Howard with 7:24 remaining in regulation, and the Red Wings' goaltender played a big role in losing his shutout bid. Howard went behind the net to play the puck and attempted to shoot it around the boards, but Sabres forward Brian Flynn managed to get a piece of the clearing attempt. The puck went right in front, where Girgensons backhanded it into an open net to make it a one-goal game.
Girgensons, 19, was Buffalo's first-round pick (No. 14) at the 2012 NHL Draft and was appearing in his first game after spending last season with the Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League.
"It definitely would have been a better moment had we won," he said of his first NHL goal.
Veteran forward Daniel Alfredsson made his Red Wings debut after signing with the club during the offseason. The 40-year-old had three shots on goal in 16:13 of ice time.