Zemgus Girgensons has put together an impressive rookie campaign and scored both goals for the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday.
However, the Detroit Red Wings skated out of First Niagara Center with a 4-2 victory. While Girgensons opened the scoring early in the second period, Detroit scored the next three and added an empty netter with less than a minute to play in regulation.
Girgensons, 20, scored his seventh and eighth goals of the season. The second was a highlight-reel affair in which he drove hard to the net and muscled around Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall to put the puck past goaltender Jimmy Howard.
Sabres coach Ted Nolan wishes more players would follow the example Girgensons is setting.
“One thing with Girgensons, he plays the game right. If there’s one thing our team can learn, is just watch the way he plays all the time,” Nolan said. “Whether he scores two goals or not, he’s by far our best player on the ice. And why? Because he plays the game right. He works both ends of the ice. He competes. He plays with some passion and all those things that good players do. He was great tonight.”
Buffalo had a chance to make it 2-1 but failed to score on a two-man advantage midway through the second period that lasted 1:51. Darren Helm then scored 3:33 into the third period to put Detroit ahead. David Legwand then tallied with 4:14 to play in regulation.
The Sabres have now lost eight-straight games against Detroit. Their last win against the Red Wings came in a 6-2 victory on Oct. 3, 2009.
“When you play a good team like Detroit, they know how to close deals,” Nolan said. “We have a 5-on-3, a chance to go ahead [2-1]. We don’t do it and that’s what happens.”
Girgensons scored on the rush 2:03 after Legwand made it 3-1. He played on a line with Cody Hodgson and Torrey Mitchell, who returned to the lineup after missing the past six games due to injury.
On his second goal, he said he didn’t realize he was about to go around one of Detroit’s defensemen in Kronwall until after the goal was in the back of the net.
“I know I’m capable of doing stuff like that,” he said. “I’ve done it in juniors. I’ve done it a couple times here and it just comes down to confidence. That’s one thing in this League that plays a big role, it’s confidence.”
He said he also knows that in order to score goals in the NHL, players have to be willing to go hard to the net and work around the crease. It starts with quick zone entries.
“We talked about today with Mitchell coming in and Cody that we need more speed throughout the neutral zone,” Girgensons said. “That’s one thing that we’ve been struggling throughout the year. We’ve been pretty static around so that’s one thing we have to keep doing.”
Hodgson set up Girgensons’ goal 1:31 into the second period. He sent a pass into the slot from the left wing boards and Girgensons, with his back to Howard, deflected it in.
Hodgson was impressed at how the line performed and their potential to be a potent line down the road.
“I thought Zemgus was great. I think Torrey compliments our line too because they’ve got so much speed up there. They pull the defense back and really hound them for forechecking,” Hodgson said. “I thought we played a lot in their end and the two goals [Girgensons] scored are great examples of how you can overpower guys. Speed and athleticism, they take over.”
Matt Hackett started for the Sabres and will carry the load for the final three games of the season. With Jhonas Enroth, Michal Neuvirth and Nathan Lieuwen all out due to injury, Hackett is looking forward to making a good impression on the Sabres coaching staff.
Hackett is now 1-4-1 in six games with Buffalo. He was 13-17-2 with a .898 save percentage and a 3.07 goals against average with the Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League this season.
“I think it’s coming along. I just have to find a way to make the extra save,” he said. “I think I’m pretty close. I just gotta, I don’t know, compete harder or find a way to bear down but it sucks losing all the time and I want to change that.”
He stopped 33 of 36 shots on Tuesday against Detroit.
“It sucks not winning. It feels like all year, I’ve been losing, losing, losing and it’s been a tough year,” he said. “But I know that I’m getting stronger by this and we’re going to find a way to turn it around.”
The Sabres travel to take on the New York Rangers on Thursday and then to Boston for an afternoon game against the Bruins on Saturday. They wrap up the season at home against the New York Islanders at 5 p.m. on Sunday.