The Sabres’ last game in Detroit was a blast to watch live. There were gorgeous goals and end-to-end rushes from the drop of the puck to the final shootout attempt.
It was not fun for the Sabres to watch on tape. Buffalo’s players saw numerous breakdowns and dismal defensive coverage. They gave up a season-worst 46 shots in the 5-4 shootout loss two weeks ago.
The Sabres hope their second visit to Joe Louis Arena on Monday looks nothing like the first. They have good reason to believe it won’t.
Buffalo put forth one of its stingiest defensive efforts of the season Saturday during a 2-1 overtime victory against Los Angeles. The Kings entered the game averaging 33 shots per game, but the Sabres held them to three in the first period and 18 during regulation. Los Angeles’ top line had a couple of odd-man rushes, but it was nothing overly concerning.
“The game against L.A. was our best in the last little while, maybe six or seven games,” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said Sunday. “One of the things we did, we managed the puck much better, got to the offensive zone and played there.
“It was the best game in a long time containing and nullifying the rush from the opposition. That’s going to be key. In Detroit, we didn’t have that. We got stretched out quite a bit and dealt with four and five guys on the rush. They were pretty effective, and the game opened up. That’s something we have to do a much better job of going into Detroit.”
The Red Wings have gotten at least one point in their last 13 games. Their 8-0-5 run has put them in second place in the Atlantic Division.
The Sabres ended a three-game losing streak by ending the Kings’ 7-0-1 run.
“We tracked well,” center Ryan O’Reilly said. “We clogged up the middle. We kept them to the outside. When we’re all committed to doing that, it’s tough for any team to get the shots.
“Overall we worked for each other and we had fun. We just kind of played hockey and weren’t overthinking things.”
The most interesting part of the Sabres’ workout in HarborCenter was the end. As the healthy players began leaving the ice, a few injured ones arrived. Goaltender Robin Lehner (ankle) and forwards Tyler Ennis (upper body) and Cody McCormick (blood clots) stretched, skated and shot pucks for about an hour.
Lehner, who worked with goaltending coach Andrew Allen, skated the most laps as he attempts to return from a high ankle sprain suffered in the season opener. Ennis, who has missed nine games, took light skates while shooting and tipping shots from McCormick and development coach Dennis Miller.
Ennis was unavailable for a formal interview but said during a casual chat that he feels good. Bylsma said Ennis remains in the week-to-week category.
Defenseman Jake McCabe, who had an assist and a disallowed goal Saturday while skating 20:13, was the only player absent from the workout.
“Maintenance day for Jake,” Bylsma said. “I think he’ll be fine.”
Erstwhile center Zemgus Girgensons is expected to remain on the left wing against Detroit. Johan Larsson moved to the middle of the third line, with captain Brian Gionta on the right wing. Gionta attempted eight shots against the Kings, while Girgensons attempted five.
“In this case, putting Girgensons on the wing gives us a little more flexibility with the lineup, being able to move him up and down the lineup,” Bylsma said. “On shifts where Zemgus is killing penalties or on the power play, the third-line center’s intact with Lars.”
The Sabres’ hot power play will meet a slumping Detroit penalty kill. Buffalo has eight goals with the man advantage in the last seven games. The Red Wings’ penalty killers are 10 for 15 in the four games since Drew Miller suffered a broken jaw.
“Obviously, Drew Miller is an elite penalty killer,” coach Jeff Blashill told reporters in Detroit on Sunday. “That’s why he’s such an important piece of our team. With that said, we’ve got other guys that we think can really do the job, but we’ve got to execute at a higher rate.”