DETROIT – It’s not all that fair to extend Christmas coal to the Buffalo Sabres for what happened Tuesday night in Joe Louis Arena.
Under normal circumstances, blowing a two-goal lead during a road game in which you score a short-handed goal is pretty unforgivable. But short-handed is exactly what you have to call the Sabres in this one.
They led, 3-1, late in the second period but a lineup missing eight regulars and utilizing five call-ups from Rochester simply couldn’t hold up through 60 minutes.
The Detroit Red Wings crept within a goal late in the second period and overpowered bedraggled Buffalo in a four-goal, third-period blitz to beat the Sabres, 6-3.
With their trademark precision passing attack carving up the Buffalo penalty killers, the Red Wings scored four power-play goals in a game for the first time since 2010. Three of them came in the final 8:20 to snap a tie and drop the Sabres to 0-3-1 in their last four games.
Detroit, meanwhile, ended an 0-2-4 slump that saw a wildly talented roster somehow score only six goals in six games. The Wings equaled that total Tuesday alone.
“They just took it to us. Their power play was unbelievable,” said Sabres goalie Michal Neuvirth. “I had no idea what was going on out there. Three or four goals, I didn’t even see the shooter.”
Tomas Tatar put Detroit ahead for good, 4-3, with 8:20 left and Brian Flynn in the penalty box for delay of game. Johan Franzen made it 5-3 with 5:54 to go and Johan Larsson gone for slashing. Tatar added the coup de grace with 2:12 to play during Andrej Meszaros’ holding penalty.
As per the collective bargaining agreement, the Sabres now have the next three days free from games, practices or travel. They won’t convene again until Saturday morning, and then host the New York Islanders on Saturday night in First Niagara Center.
The Sabres need a break. Big names like Tyler Myers, Brian Gionta and Matt Moulson were among those who missed this game and their absence showed. The score could have been much worse as the Sabres were outshot, 39-16, and Detroit had an incredible 76-22 advantage in shot attempts.
Still, the Sabres got goals from Nicolas Deslauriers and Chris Stewart to take a 2-1 lead after the first period and stunned the crowd of 20,027 when defenseman Andre Benoit’s short-handed breakaway tally, his first goal as a Sabre, gave Buffalo a 3-1 lead with 11 minutes left in the second.
Things started to fall apart when Deslauriers went off for roughing at 14:48 of the second, when he foolishly made a hard hit in the corner on Jakub Kindl on a play that had already been whistled for icing.
The Red Wings didn’t score on the ensuing power play but got momentum and used it to pull within 3-2 on Danny DeKeyser’s goal at 17:54. That was a very stoppable shot that Neuvirth let creep between his legs.
“I take blame for all that,” Deslauriers said. “I wasn’t sharp enough to know there was icing and they took momentum off that. I take the blame for everything that happened tonight.”
“Stupid is a good word for it,” grumbled coach Ted Nolan. “You’re playing a good team like Detroit, you have a lead and you want to play a smart, intelligent game and then we take a bad penalty. We woke them up a little bit and the rest is history.”
Nolan wasn’t in a giving mood to extend olive branches to his young players either. The Rochester five – Mark Pysyk, Larsson, Mikhail Grigorenko, Tim Schaller and Joel Armia – combined for just two shots on goal in the game.
Armia, Buffalo’s No. 1 draft pick in 2011, played 14:49 in his much-anticipated NHL debut. He didn’t have a shot on goal while playing left wing on the top line with Zemgus Girgensons and Tyler Ennis and often seemed confused about defensive assignments.
“You get opportunities,” Nolan said. “The American League guys came up from Rochester and you get a chance. You don’t hope to do OK. You’ve got to give something more, especially when you’re depleted the way we are. They didn’t play like they wanted to stay here.”
Neuvirth was disappointed by the DeKeyser goal, but there wasn’t much he could do on any of the others. Henrik Zetterberg tied the score at 4:19 of the third on a terrific back pass from fellow Detroit legend Pavel Datsyuk, and then the Wings really went to work.
Buffalo entered the game 24th in the NHL on the penalty kill, and 29th on the road. Detroit’s power play was ranked No. 7 and will climb higher.
“We’re missing some of our key penalty killers,” Nolan said, “And we have guys who just came up from the American Hockey League going against Zetterberg and Datsyuk. They’re going to find those seams when you don’t have your stick in the proper position.”
“The key is to stay out of the box,” Benoit said. “Once we took some penalties, we had trouble coming up with the kills. We just have to find a way to close that game out.”