Coming into their game Sunday night, the Buffalo Sabres knew they’d have to stay out of the penalty box if they wanted a good shot at beating the Detroit Red Wings.
For 20 minutes, they were able to stick to that gameplan, but once they committed their first penalty of the game, everything unraveled.
Detroit rallied back from a 3-0 first-period deficit to win 6-4 at Joe Louis Arena. Henrik Zetterberg had a four-point night and recorded his sixth career hat trick. Ten different Red Wings picked up points.
Tyler Ennis had two goals and an assist for Buffalo. Drew Stafford and Chris Stewart also scored.
The Sabres outshot the Red Wings 8-5 in the first period, but more importantly, they skated into the dressing room with a 3-0 lead.
That all changed in the second period.
Detroit outshot Buffalo 9-1 in the second and tied the game with goals from Gustav Nyquist, Drew Miller and Tomas Tatar. They also controlled play in the Sabres’ zone for much of the period. Buffalo wasn’t credited with their first shot on goal of the period until 5:14 remained.
With Tyler Myers in the box for roughing 49 seconds into the middle period, Detroit began their assault. Nyquist scored 11 seconds into the power play to give the Red Wings some life.
“It’s a penalty I shouldn’t have taken. It’s one I’d like back,” Myers said. “It was a retaliatory penalty and I shouldn’t have taken it.”
Buffalo has had its struggles on the penalty kill as of late and Detroit’s power play went 2-for-4 on Sunday. Over the past four games, the Sabres have allowed seven power-play goals in their past 17 opportunities to kill. Detroit also scored on a delayed penalty.
“It’s almost like one of those poison pills now. Every time it happens, we just cringe and we haven’t got no confidence in our penalty killing unit right now,” Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. “When that happened, it was really a momentum changer. But you can’t go through a hockey [game] mistake-free. There’s going to be mistakes and there are going to be some things we shouldn’t do. It’s just one of those things.”
The two teams skated into the third period tied 3-3, but Detroit pulled away quickly with Zetterberg scoring the go-ahead goal 1:59 in and then added the eventual game-winner at the 5:05 mark. All three of his goals came in the third period.
AN EARLY LEAD
Buffalo’s first two goals came as a result of defensemen jumping into the play. To set up the opening goal 1:46 in, Andrej Meszaros rushed the puck in over the line and put a shot on net that Petr Mrazek turned aside with his blocker. Following up on the play, Meszaros collected the rebound and fought for the puck with his opposition.
Detroit wound up with the puck behind the net, but a turnover to Mrazek’s left allowed Cody Hodgson to pick up the puck and send it into the slot. The puck bypassed Philip Varone and ended up on Stafford’s stick. He partially fanned on his first opportunity, but put the follow-up past Mrazek.
The goal was Stafford’s seventh of the season.
Ennis’ tally 9:39 remaining in the first came from a bad angle when his shot along the goal line on the right wing was deflected in off Detroit defenseman Jonathan Ericsson’s stick and in through the five hole.
Then, the Sabres tallied on the power-play with 6:23 remaining. Defenseman Nikita Zadorov helped Buffalo go ahead 3-0 when he pinched on the left wing boards and then carried the puck in behind the net. He found Ennis at the point and his shot was deflected in by Stewart, who slid in to screen the netminder.
“That first period, we were proactive. We went on the attack,” Myers said. “We kind of had a ‘no respect’ look to our team that we hadn’t had in a while and come in the second, it seemed like we gave them too much respect after that.”
Stewart has a goal and two assists in his past two games while Ennis has three goals and an assist over that same span.
Nolan was pleased with the team’s effort in the first period.
“The way we played in the first period I was extremely proud of them,” he said. “What happened is there are going to be certain nights when you’re rebuilding, there are going to be certain nights when world-class athletes are going to take over and out-skill us.
“Tonight, I really felt that’s what happened. The effort was there. We tried as hard as we could and there are just going to be nights where we’re going to get out-skilled and out-talented.”
That third goal chased Mrazek (four saves on seven shots) from the net, resulting in Detroit bringing in Tom McCollum, the Western New York native who hadn’t made an appearance in an NHL game since March 30, 2011.
McCollum’s night was pretty easy from then on out.
“We wanted to get some pucks on that guy, we didn’t get enough of them,” Ennis said.
Buffalo did score once on McCollum. Ennis potted his second of the night 8:31 into the third to make it 5-4. However, McCollum only needed to make seven saves to pick up the first win of his NHL career.
“We got tense. We didn’t have that confidence to go after a goaltender that didn’t have too much experience in this League,” Nolan said. “The one goal that we did score, Ennis, he just turned around, threw it on net and it went in. We just couldn’t get in that shot position.”
The last time Buffalo played in Detroit, they also held an early lead before things fell apart. The Sabres were up 3-1 on Dec. 23 in the second period before Detroit scored five unanswered goals, including three on the power play.
Detroit came roaring back in the second period on Sunday and kept the Sabres on their heels and chasing the play. Memories of the game on Dec. 23 may have played a role.
“It was one of our best periods of the year. I don’t know if the last game here got in our head, but we sat back hard,” Myers said. “We knew they were going to come out strong in the second after the first period they had. We didn’t answer the bell.”
The game marked Buffalo’s final contest until after the All-Star Break. They’ll next play on Jan. 27 in Calgary, which marks the start of a four-game road trip.
Buffalo has now lost 11-straight games in regulation and are 1-14-1 in their past 16.
The Sabres will have captain Brian Gionta and defenseman Mike Weber back after the break. Gionta has been out since Dec. 23 with an upper-body injury and Weber has missed the past two games with a lower-body injury.
Forward Marcus Foligno is also working his way back after breaking his hand defending Gionta on the play he was injured on.
However, Cody McComick, who was hospitalized with a blood clot in his leg, will likely miss the rest of the season. He was discharged from the hospital last week, but Nolan doesn’t think he’ll be ready to play before the end of the year.
“It looks like he’s out for the year,” Nolan said after the game. “There’s nothing official, but that was one of the remarks I heard right at the beginning when he was in the hospital. So right now, I’m not banking on him coming back.”
The Sabres able to play hope to come back from the break refreshed and refocused.
“We’re not going to quit in here. As bad as things have gotten, there’s no quit,” Stafford said. “We’re going to keep going here. Hopefully we take this break and recharge the batteries.”