BUFFALO – The Red Wings and Sabres have something in common, though neither team is very happy about it.
The Wings and the host Sabres bring three-game losing streaks into this afternoon’s game at First Niagara Center.
For Detroit, a higher work ethic and fewer turnovers will be needed to prevent the Wings from establish a new season-long losing streak.
Coach Jeff Blashill said the outcome of today’s matinee is “gonna be different if our compete level is better and if our turnover ratio is better. If we limit our turnovers and we compete at a higher level we’ll give ourselves a way better chance to win. You’ve got to play great in this league to give yourself a chance to win. Certainly doesn’t guarantee victory, but it gives yourself the best chance.”
During their recent streak, scoring is down. The Wings have a combined four goals – two by Pavel Datsyuk – in their regulation losses to Minnesota, Winnipeg and Pittsburgh.
Buffalo hasn’t been much better. Only three teams – Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Anaheim – have scored less than the 88 goals the Sabres’ offense has produced.
“The teams are so close, I don’t want this to sound like our guys aren’t out there caring and not out there trying, because that’s not true,” Blashill said. “We need an increased compete level. You’ve gotta dig deep and be a little above and beyond where we’re at. I don’t want to disrespect any of our other opponents, the other teams are trying real hard too, and they’re real good too, so the difference is so miniscule every little puck matters, every little play matters, and we just gotta heighten it and be a little bit better.”
As the season reaches the midway point, every game, every point is extremely important, especially against conference rivals, as is the case today against the Sabres, who trail the Red Wings by nine points in the Atlantic Division.
“I think every game is crucial,” Blashill said. “I think regardless of where we sit that’s over, and now we’ve got to continue to move forward, try to win as many games as possible and certainly tonight’s game is a huge game.”
Petr Mrazek will play in his seventh straight game – he replaced Jimmy Howard in two of those appearances – which is the longest such game-played streak for a Wings’ goalie since Mrazek appeared in 13 straight (Jan. 7 to Feb. 11) last season.
In an effort to jumpstart the offense, Blashill revealed new line combinations during pre-game warmups. The Wings will roll out the following lines:
Good things come to the Red Wings when they score first. Detroit is 16-4-4 this season when scoring first in games, and 7-1-1 when taking a lead into the first intermission.
The Red Wings did both Saturday afternoon when Brad Richards registered his fourth goal of the season at 12:59 of the period.
Until then, Evander Kane had perhaps the best chance to score during the period when he converted a turnover at the far blue line into an odd-man rush. But his wrist shot from the top of the left circle was stopped by Mrazek’s right pad save around the six-minute mark.
The first power play of the game went to the Sabres when Darren Helm was called for hooking Nicolas Deslauriers at the nine-minute mark. But the Red Wings’ penalty killers did a terrific job of clamping down on the Sabres, limiting them to no shots on goal while clearing the zone on three separate occasions to eat up much of the special teams time.
As so often happens, a great save on one end of the ice precedes a momentum-gaining goal at the opposite end of the rink. A case in point was Mrazek’s heady save after a Jonathan Ericsson turnover deep in the Wings’ end resulted in a glorious chance for Jamie McCann. Fortunately for the Wings, Mrazek was alert and covered up drawing a faceoff.
After beating Ryan O’Reilly in the faceoff circle to the right of Mrazek, Riley Sheahan led a rush up the ice before making a nifty centering pass to Richards, who pulled the trigger from the slot beating Sabres goalie Chad Johnson.
DETROIT 1, BUFFALO 0
SCORING: 1. DET, Richards (Sheahan, Larkin) 12:59.
PENALTIES: 1. DET, Helm (hooking) 9:00; 2. DET, Nosek (high-sticking) 14:08.
SHOTS: Detroit 7, Buffalo 11.
Before the game, Blashill was asked about the team’s power play that has been up and down lately. “You can talk about the timeliness of it, but the reality is power plays at 20-25 percent is a great power play,” the coach said.
Well, the power play gave the Red Wings a two-goal lead in the second, and has been operating 31.6 percent (6-of-19) over the past six-plus road games.
Sheahan, who set up Richards’ goal in the first, tipped in Mike Green’s shot from the point with two-seconds left in Cody Franson’s roughing penalty.
But the period did not end on a high note for the Red Wings, as Sabres rookie Jack Eichel scored a pair of goals – one on the power play – to pull Buffalo even at 2-2.
DETROIT 2, BUFFALO 2
SCORING: 1. DET, Sheahan PPG (Green, Tatar) 7:59; 2. BUF, Eichel PPG (Ristolainen) 14:26; 3. BUF, Eichel (Girgensons, Gionta) 17:27.
PENALTIES: 1. BUF, Weber (hooking) 1:36; 2. BUF, Franson (roughing) 6:01; 3. DET, Ericsson (holding) 12:45.
SHOTS: Detroit 8 (15), Buffalo 13 (24).
The Wings regained their one-goal lead on a nice effort by Gustav Nyquist, who raced through the neutral zone and fired a wrist shot through traffic from the top of the slot.
Johnson made the initial save, but kicked it out in front where captain Henrik Zetterberg was waiting to pounce. Brendan Smith picked up a secondary assist on the go-ahead goal. It was the defenseman’s seventh point in the past eight games.
Unfortunately, the Sabres weren’t done. They evened the score again on the power play, getting a fortuitous bounce in front of the Wings’ net. As Danny DeKeyser tried clearing the puck from the crease his effort went off Tomas Nosek’s stick in the low slot and into the open net. Sam Reinhardt was credit with an unassisted goal at 8:58.
With three minutes left in regulation, Kane moved in on the left side before firing a rocket behind Mrazek, but the shot went off the near goal post. However, Detroit countered and Tomas Tatar cruised into the slot before lifting a shot that went high far side on Johnson for the eventual game-winner with 2:50 left.
Mrazek had to come up with one more huge save though. With 1:25 left, he prevented Zach Bogosian from getting another equalizer. Bogosian broke free into the Wings’ zone when he moved across the blue line alone, courtesy of Eichel’s stretch pass. But the Wings’ goalie made perhaps the biggest stop of the game to preserve the win.
DETROIT 4, BUFFALO 3
SCORING: 1. DET, Zetterberg (Nyquist, Smith) 2:27; 2. BUF, Reinhardt PPG (unassisted) 8:58; 3. DET, Tatar (unassisted) 17:10.
PENALTIES: 1. DET, Green (hooking) 5:25; 2. DET, Green (cross-checking) 7:36.
SHOTS: Detroit 8 (23), Buffalo 11 (35).