Sabres Fall to Griffins— er, Wings

It wasn’t quite the game anyone expected. Sure, under normal circumstances, it should be easy enough for the Red Wings to gain a win over the Buffalo Sabres. But it shouldn’t have been quite so easy when a full third of the lineup (six of eighteen skaters) is straight from the Grand Rapids Griffins. And it certainly shouldn’t have been a triumphant 7-2 blowout, but there it was.

The Sabres managed to open the scoring a few minutes into the third period. J.P. Dumont made a pass to Daniel Briere just behind the net. Briere noticed Curtis Joseph just slightly out of position, so he banked the puck in off the goalie’s back. Joseph, also just recalled from the Griffins, looked a little shaky early on, but redeemed himself with a huge save against Taylor Pyatt on a breakaway a few minutes after Briere’s goal.

Pavel Datsyuk split through two Buffalo defensemen to make a give-and-go passing play with Kris Draper near the end of the period. Datsyuk pushed to the net, and when he got the puck back from Draper, he was able to flip it in behind goalie Ryan Miller. Kirk Maltby moved Detroit into a 2-1 lead just over two minutes later when some hard work in the corner by Mathieu Dandenault and a nice pass by Datsyuk left Maltby all alone in front of the net long enough to get the shot away.

Detroit carried their one goal lead all the way through the third period, holding off three Buffalo power plays.

The third period was a different story. An ordinary team might have shut down and played defensive hockey for the final twenty minutes, but these are the Red Wings (even if a lot of them were Griffins just yesterday), and they best defend their leads by adding to them. Datsyuk started the onslaught with his second goal of the night at 8:01. Jason Woolley threaded a pass through several pairs of legs to leave Datsyuk all alone in the high slot. He deked, then put the puck high over Miller.

Draper added a wraparound goal off a patient pass by Brendan Shanahan at 9:44, and Jiri Hudler scored the first goal of his NHL career by one-timing the puck from the high slot, after one of Woolley’s excellent passes found the way straight to him. It was a power play goal, with Eric Boulton in the penalty box for cross checking.

Jochen Hecht got the puck past Joseph to get the Sabres up to two, but Mathieu Schneider answered by putting a hard shot from the blue line right between Miller’s leg pads. Boyd Devereaux completed the Red Wings’ scoring by snapping a well placed wrist shot over Miller’s shoulder with 1:37 left to play.

The Sabres outshot Detroit by a margin of 25 to 23. Detroit was one for four on the power play. The Red Wings’ next opponent will be the Blackhawks, Thursday night in Chicago.

The Griffins playing as Wings tonight were Darryl Bootland, Jiri Hudler, Niklas Kronwall, Kevin Miller, Mark Mowers, Jamie Rivers, and goalie Joey MacDonald, who played backup to Joseph with Hasek and Legace both out for a few days…. It was Kronwall’s NHL debut. He logged 13:26 of ice time, took two shots on goal, served two penalty minutes, and finished with a plus-one rating…. Kevin Miller is the cousin of Sabres goalie Ryan Miller.

Cautious Optimism

The defense still looked weak in spots, and Curtis Joseph started out looking shaky and nervous (even though he calmed down and improved as the game wore on). But Sergei Fedorov was flashing his famous grin after he scored two goals, and the Red Wings won consecutive games for the first time since the end of December with a 4-2 victory over the Buffalo Sabres.

The Wings started out the game with good pressure, and the Sabres didn’t seem to be entirely sure how to react. Detroit wasn’t able to beat rookie goaltender Ryan Miller, a former Michigan State Spartan, until Jay McKee’s hooking penalty gave them a power play chance midway through the first period. The power play got off to a slow start, and it was trailing to an end by the time Brett Hull shot against Miller from the high slot. The rebound squirted out to the left faceoff circle. Jason Woolley had pinched in from the point, and he was able to one-time the shot into the mostly empty net to score the first goal against his former team.

Fedorov decided that the early part of the second period would be a fine time to end his seven game goal drought. The Sabres’ defensive coverage was weak against Kirk Maltby and Brendan Shanahan behind the net. Shanahan was able to make a good centering pass to Fedorov coming up through the high slot, and Fedorov’s shot deflected off the skate of Stu Barnes and up past Miller’s catching glove.

Fedorov increased Detroit’s lead to three goals just a few minutes later. He received another good pass from Shanahan through center ice, and flew across the Sabres’ blue line. He faked out a defenseman, then took the long shot. The puck hit Miller’s leg pads and bounced into the net.

Buffalo answered with a goal of their own less than a minute after that. A large group of players from both teams got into a tangle in front of Curtis Joseph, and Tim Connolly was able to draw the puck back away. Somehow, his shot found its way through the mass of legs and sticks, and Joseph had no chance to stop it with such a screen in front of him.

The Sabres came on hard after that, aided by their momentum, by two power plays, and by a less-than-optimum defensive effort by the Red Wings, but Joseph was equal to the task, and the Sabres went into the intermission frustrated in their attempts to score.

The Red Wings got their second power play of the night early in the third, and this one looked better from the start. Nicklas Lidstrom‘s shot rebounded off of Tomas Holmstrom in front of the net. The puck bounced off to the side, where Igor Larionov was waiting to tap it in past Miller.

Another breakdown in defensive communication let the Sabres come back within two goals at 5:47 of the third. Denis Hamel was left all alone right in front of Joseph, and the five Detroit skaters all seemed to be heading out of the zone. Adam Mair was able to thread a pass through to Hamel, and Hamel was able to get enough lift on the shot to put it in over Joseph.

The Sabres pulled their goalie with 1:30 left to play, but the Red Wings were able to keep the puck away from them well enough that they had no real chance to score with their extra skater.

Joseph made 31 saves on 33 shots over the course of the game, for a .939 save percentage. Miller stopped 20 of 24, making his save percentage .833. Detroit won 38 of the 67 faceoffs. The Red Wings’ next game will be on the road Saturday evening against the Atlanta Thrashers.