It took some time, but it seems Buffalo Sabres are starting to reap the rewards of keeping it simple. It's what they did in their comeback victory in Boston on Saturday, and what they aimed to do at home against the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday night.
For the most part, they stuck to the plan. The Sabres only scored one goal - from Benoit Pouliot with 10:15 remaining in the second period - but defended well, limited mistakes in transition and worked hard on the forecheck in a 1-0 victory.
There were chances against, of course, but Robin Lehner was good when he needed to be. He made 32 saves for his first shutout of the season, but said it was the team effort that allowed the Sabres to protect their one-goal lead for more than half the game.
"It means that we followed the game plan," Lehner said. "As I've said from day one, I think we have the right game plan. We've just got to do it. We got it deep, we flipped pucks out, we didn't force plays, and look at that third period."
Video: Lehner, Sabres blank Red Wings, 1-0
The Sabres were adamant that their win in Boston wouldn't mean much if they couldn't take the lessons from that game and apply them going forward. In the first 10 minutes Tuesday, they got away from that responsible style and as a result trailed heavily in the shot column.
The switch flipped midway through the period, though, and the Sabres began to string together strong shifts. They stopped trying to force the issue in the neutral zone, opting instead to take what was given to them and fight for the puck on the forecheck.
"After that, we took responsibility," Pouliot said. "We played hard, we back checked, we played the way we wanted to play and it shows in the result. We won the game. "
"When we play a simple game, I think we have very skilled guys in here," Lehner said. "They're going to take advantage of the opportunities they get."
In Boston, the Sabres did indeed tire the Bruins enough to the point where their chances began to find the back of the net. On Tuesday, the offensive results weren't quite the same. The Sabres went 0-for-4 on the power play, and Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard was strong on his way to making 31 saves.
But the preferred result is a win, not goals, and the Sabres defended well enough and limited Detroit's speed to the point where one goal was all they needed.
"I think it's a good example of when you play the right way, you're not always going to get what you want," Sabres coach Phil Housley said. "You're just going to have to take what's given and sometimes you're going to have to defend."
The victory checks off a few items for this Sabres team; it was their first win at home this season and their first time winning back-to-back games. They won't have to wait 24 hours for a chance to make it three in Columbus on Wednesday.
"This team's been through a lot," Housley said. "They've had some tough starts they've had to battle through. But they've now found a way to win a tight game, which is really important. It think that's going to help their confidence being in that situation again.
"We can enjoy tonight, but we know Columbus is waiting."
Benoit goes back-to-back
Pouliot's goal in the second period marked his second in as many games. The play began when he crashed toward the end boards on a forecheck, freeing the puck to be intercepted by Taylor Fedun along the wall.
Fedun took his shot, creating the rebound off of which Victor Antipin would collect the puck and shoot from the left of the net. Antipin's shot was kicked out behind the net, where Pouliot collected the puck and scored on a wraparound attempt.
Antipin earned the primary assist for his first NHL point, while the secondary assist gave Fedun his first point of the season.
Video: DET@BUF: Pouliot beats Howard with wraparound
Housley said he liked the line of Pouliot, Ryan O'Reilly and Jason Pominville as a whole over the last two games and credited them with helping to shift the momentum in the first period.
"I think that line in general was really solid, two games in a row now," Housley said. "Ben provided some physicality. I think they were strong on the forecheck, they had really good wall play in our zone."
Lehner made 32 in his second straight victory, none bigger than this one against Martin Frk with 3:18 remaining in the second period:
Video: DET@BUF: Lehner extends pad for great save on Frk
The shot attempt came less than 10 minutes after Pouliot's goal and protected the Sabres' one-goal lead heading into the second intermission.
"I think it's a compliment to him that he comes back and plays a really strong game at home," Housley said. "He made some really big saves at the right time for us. We did give up opportunities, maybe a little bit of a lack of puck management, but he was really strong. It's going to boost his confidence."
The Sabres will conclude their third back-to-back set of the season in against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena on Wednesday night. The game will be nationally broadcast on NBCSN, with puck drop set for 8 p.m.
Dan Dunleavy and Rob Ray will have the call on WGR 550.