DETROIT – The pace of play was more to the liking of the Buffalo Sabres than the last time they were in Detroit.
The Sabres slowed the game down, played a more puck-possession style than the free-wheeling run-and-gun game they got caught up in, and eventually lost, in Joe Louis Arena two weeks ago.
But systems and strategy aside, the difference for the Sabres came through simplicity.
Just shoot the puck and go to the net. Good things will eventually happen.
That’s what happened for both Ryan O’Reilly and Johan Larsson as they tallied late goals to give the Sabres the 2-1 decision and their first win in Detroit since Oct. 13, 2006, and their first win in regulation in Joe Louis Arena since March 6, 1994.
O’Reilly scored with 4:14 left in regulation, tipping in a shot from Sam Reinhart. Just over a minute later, Larsson went to the front of the net as Mike Weber took a shot, putting him in the right place as the puck bounced onto his stick and he buried the opportunity for the game-winner.
“You can talk about the Xs and Os and the strategy of the game, but for us, we’ve got to play hockey,” O’Reilly said. “We have to enjoy ourselves out there and we have to play together. We’ve got that mindset right now that’s helping us play together and not overthink things. We’re going to find ways to win games.”
O’Reilly talked about the maturity of the team, being able to score in the final five minutes after Detroit goaltender Petr Mrazek had kept them off the board for the previous 55. The Sabres had 30 shots on goal, including 12 in the third period, with O’Reilly leading the charge with five.
He had several good scoring opportunities but failed to connect. He was frustrated but channeled the energy into simple plays, like going toward the net when Reinhart wound up for a shot.
“I was a little frustrated,” O’Reilly said. “I had some really good chances before that. … It’s just one of those things of going to the net and trying to create something. It was good play by Sam putting it in the area and for me it was just a lucky bounce going in.”
It wasn’t a different kind of lucky bounce for Larsson, who found the puck on his stick after a shot from Weber bounced off players and to him – alone in front of Mrazek. It was his first goal of the season.
“The puck came around and Webby shot it and I thought maybe I go to net, get a rebound or something but it came right on my stick and I was trying to get the release off quick,” Larsson said. “It’s a really good feeling.”
And again the goal was a result of a simple, hockey play.
“We’re not going to get in it in a fancy, passing, tic-tac-toe type of way,” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. “We need to do it in a simple fashion and we need to get it in the offensive zone and sometimes we’re going to have to grind it out to get our opportunities. The opportunities we did get tonight were a direct result of that. It’s tough to do sometimes when you’re down in a game and you need a goal, but we did.”
While the Sabres stayed patient and simple on offense, Chad Johnson was keeping the team in the game.
Larsson had the game-winner, but it was Johnson with the highlight-reel sprawling save on Gustav Nyquist in the closing seconds to seal the win.
“That cage was absolutely as wide open as you can get from our angle,” Bylsma said. “And Chad makes a desperation move to get there and what a save that was. It’s a dynamic, dramatic glove save by him that preserves the victory.”
While that’s the save everyone will talk about, Johnson had 30 other saves and general strong play in the crease to limit a fast, offensively gifted Red Wings team to one goal.
“The shot total wasn’t extremely high, but there was probably five or six very good Grade-A opportunities they had with some good players,” Bylsma said. “He had one spectacular save but was real strong making some big saves for us throughout the game.”