BUFFALO – The reeling Detroit Red Wings limped into a town Sunday a beaten up and tired bunch ripe to be exploited. They left galvanized by only their second win in 10 games, a tight 3-1 triumph against the rested Sabres in a dull, low-chance affair.
Playing without three regulars, including star Pavel Datsyuk, the Wings fell behind early before scoring the go-ahead goal 11:43 into the third period inside the First Niagara Center.
So much for looking tired. Sunday’s win was the Wings’ third game in four nights. They lost to Ottawa 4-2 on Saturday at home.
“Did we have an opportunity? Yes, we did,” interim coach Ted Nolan said following the Sabres’ fourth straight loss. “Three games in a row now I thought we had a pretty good start, and we don’t seem to be consistent with our play. Shift after shift we have lapses. We do things that are characteristics of losing.”
Recently, however, they’ve at least showcased some traits of winning teams. Believe it or not, the Sabres, who’ve been outscored a ridiculous 31-6 during the opening period this season, have tallied first the last three games.
Cody Hodgson’s slick goal at 7:47 – the center tucked the puck in after Drew Stafford forced a turnover – helped the Sabres take a lead into the first intermission for only the third time in 25 games this season.
“I thought in the first period we came out really strong, and then we let them take over the period,” Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers said. “It just seems like in our game right now we’re inconsistent with our compete level. We’re really going to have to focus on trying, no matter what the situation is, playing the same way. It seems like we’re a little bit off and on right now.”
Sabres captain Steve Ott said “the light bulbs have to be turned” at the beginning of games.
“If you’re not ready to play the Detroit Red Wings, there’s something wrong with you,” he said. “Not only will they burn you with your talent and everything else, but they’re a world-class hockey team with some great character players.”
Darren Helm’s nifty backhander tied the game 30 seconds into the second period.
At some point, Nolan said, the Sabres will grab that early 2-0 lead and seize all the momentum. Nolan said he could feel the emotion of the 18,721 fans during some high points Sunday.
“There’s certain moments in seasons when things start changing,” he said. “We haven’t hit that yet. I know it’s pretty frustrating.”
Myers added: “You can tell we take our foot off the gas a bit. We have spurts where we feel like we’re outplaying them, taking it to them, and all of a sudden we back off a little bit because maybe we’re feeling pretty good about ourselves.”
In his five games, the Sabres’ only consistency has come from goaltending, Nolan said.
“It gives us a chance all the time,” he said. “We kind of shoot ourselves in the foot. They get momentum. We look like we’re tired. I think it’s a state of mind.”
Still, the Sabres had chances Sunday. Wings goalie Jonas Gustavsson stymied Ott’s penalty shot 9:39 into the second period. Niklas Kronwall hauled Ott down after Tyler Ennis’ slick breakaway pass.
Later on, penalties, something that irked Nolan after Thursday’s 4-1 loss in Philadelphia, began burning the Sabres again.
“They can swing games just by getting power-play opportunities because then they feel the puck, then they get zone time and they just kind of keep it rolling after that,” said Sabres goalie Ryan Miller, who made 31 saves.
The Sabres killed off Christian Ehrhoff’s hooking penalty early in the third period. But Johan Franzen scored during Myers’ cross-checking infraction, a call the Sabres thought was weak.
Myers said he “wanted that one back.”
“Whether I think he sold it or not, I can’t put myself in that situation with my stick,” he said.
Nolan added: “I don’t think it was a real major cross-checking. Detroit was cross-checking us all night. They seemed to get away with it. … When you’re winning team, you get those breaks, and when you’re struggling, you don’t.”
Daniel Alfredsson’s empty-net goal sealed the game.