Dec 27, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Buffalo Sabres left wing Matt Moulson (26) and Detroit Red Wings center Dylan Larkin (71) battle for the puck in the third period at Joe Louis Arena. Buffalo won 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Tuesday night featured the first slate of games following the NHL’s brief Christmas break. The Buffalo Sabres strolled into Joe Louis Arena looking to get back in the win column after a 5-1 butt whoopin’ at the hands of the Islanders, while the Red Wings sought to build off of their comeback shootout win against the Panthers.
Tonight began on a special note: the Red Wings honored the 1996-97 team that snapped the franchise’s 42-year Cup drought. Ken Daniels and Mickey Redmond kicked off the ceremony with a few words, followed by a video commemoration, and then the player (and coach) introductions. Nick Lidstrom, Vladimir Konstantinov, Brendan Shanahan, and Steve Yzerman received the loudest cheers, with Konstantinov’s being particularly powerful. Great moment.
Turning the clock back is fun, but it was eventually time to return to the present, as there was a hockey game to be played. The Sabres, like the Wings, struggle to put the puck in the net. A low-scoring game would not have come as a surprise.
The Red Wings generated some great offensive pressure around the 5-6 minute mark of the first period. Shortly thereafter, however, they found themselves in a familiar place. For the tenth straight game—yes, TENTH straight game—the Wings surrendered the first goal. You can’t expect to win that way.
The Sabres later capitalized on the game’s first power play to make it 2-0. No chance for Petr Mrazek on this goal, a Sam Reinhart tip-in from Rasmus Ristolainen’s shot. Surprisingly, the Sabres power play is actually quite good—fourth in the entire NHL. So when you combine that with Detroit’s middle-of-the-road penalty kill that’s surrendered five power play goals the past three games, you shouldn’t be shocked this happened.
The first period finished with a 13-12 shot edge for the Red Wings. Despite those 13 shots and a couple of decent scoring chances, it felt like Robin Lehner didn’t have to work too hard at all. And despite winning 16 of 23 face-offs, the Sabres were easily the better team in that period, in no small part due to scoring twice.
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A few minutes into the second period saw a spirited fight between Anthony Mantha and Marcus Foligno. It didn’t lead to much of a spark on Detroit’s side; the offense continued looking anemic per usual. Hey, at least the Wings successfully killed a penalty!
The Wings did eventually get on the board, however, with Henrik Zetterberg banking a sharp-angle shot off the back of Lehner’s head to make it 2-1. But the excitement was painfully short-lived when Jack Eichel pulled out some sick moves to restore Buffalo’s two goal lead a mere 23 seconds later. L-O-L.
Wait a minute though! MILLER TIME! Drew Miller again cut the Sabres’ lead to one just 66 seconds after Eichel’s goal. Three goals in 90 seconds! Exciting stuff!
The second period ended on a scrappy note. Brendan Smith fought Evander Kane, whose dad was an amateur boxer and named him after Evander Holyfield. Thankfully Smitty held his own, because Kane probably could’ve decked him. Although down 3-2 after forty, Detroit was undoubtedly the better team in that second period.
Not much to speak of in the third period… until Thomas Vanek tied the game at the six-and-a-half minute mark! AND IT WAS A POWER PLAY GOAL, NO LESS! STOP THE PRESSES!
With the game now knotted at three, Joe Louis Arena was rockin’. It sadly didn’t take very long for the Wings to be the Wings, suck the energy out of the rink, and surrender a go-ahead goal by Evander Kane, his second of the game. Kane took advantage of poor defensive coverage, received a great heads-up pass from Brian Gionta, raced to the net, and potted the puck past Petr Mrazek.
The final twelve minutes featured plenty of Detroit shots on goal, but to no avail. They fell to Buffalo 4-3. Another tough loss.
Final miscellaneous thoughts:
There’s no point in dwelling on moral victories, such as the Red Wings out-shooting the Sabres 30-10 over the final two periods. Bottom line is that they didn’t receive any points out of this game and failed to capitalize on the Bruins’ loss in Columbus.
A team that struggles to score like Detroit simply cannot afford to surrender three or four goals per night. Mrazek needs to be better, and he’ll be the first to tell you that.
The Wings played catch-up hockey all night. As former bench boss Babs would say, “Catch-up hockey is losing hockey.”
Dylan Larkin just can’t catch a break, man. Frustrating to watch, 100x more frustrating for him to experience, I imagine.
Next game is Thursday night in Ottawa. Puck drop is scheduled for 8:00pm ET. LGRW.