DETROIT — Red Wings coach Mike Babcock is always preaching about starting on time.
He doesn’t mean just in games; he also means in the season.
So far, so good for the Red Wings, who made their Eastern Conference debut with a 2-1 victory over the Buffalo Sabres in front of a full house at Joe Louis Arena on Wednesday night.
The Wings scored two goals 36 seconds apart in the first period, one by Mikael Samuelsson and the other by Pavel Datsyuk.
They then spent a good portion of the rest of the game killing off penalties, including two successful kills of 5-on-3 for the Sabres, one for 1 minute, 31 seconds in the first period and another for 51 seconds late in the second.
“I didn’t like killing as much as we did, obviously,” Babcock said. “They had two long 5-on-3s, but I thought we were aggressive and didn’t give them much zone time.
“They were under pressure when they were in our zone, so that’s a positive thing for us. We had lots of forwards contributing, obviously. Howie (Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard) was good.”
Howard stopped 19 of 20 shots.
“I think everyone here tonight was just focused, excited and ready to go,” Howard said. “I thought we got off to a great start there.
“We took a lot of penalties. We’re gonna have to clean that up, especially early on in the year here, where it’s more tightly called.”
The Wings have lots of video at their disposal, so they can learn the players and teams in the Eastern Conference, but it’s going to take some time to really get acclimated.
“Being in the West for so long, you knew what was gonna happen,” Howard said. “These situations are new. There are new players out there that we aren’t familiar with, but you’re gonna get familiar with them relatively fast..”
Although they didn’t figure in the scoring, new Wings Daniel Alfredsson and Stephen Weiss made good first impressions.
“I wanted to have a good game, definitely wanted a big win tonight,” Alfredsson said. “I think that made me nervous.
“It’s been over a month now, and I’ve gotten to know most of the guys. I feel comfortable in the locker room.”
Now that they’ve won the first game, the Wings would love to have everyone get and stay healthy throughout the season, but that’s always a difficult task.
In previous years, injuries took a toll and the Wings had to fight to make the playoffs.
But the more wins you get earlier in the season, the less pressure you’ll have later on, when everyone is fighting to reach the postseason.
“You want to get off to a good start,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “If you lose points early in the season, it’s hard to gain coming down to the wire because everybody’s beating everybody.
“It’s hard to really catch up, so you want to get off to a good start and have some points in your bank.”
It was a tough night for the Michigan-based Miller family because their loyalties were divided. One son, Ryan Miller, was in goal for the Sabres, and the other son, Drew Miller, is a forward for the Red Wings.
One family member wore a jacket with both No. 30 and No. 20 on it, one on each side. Ryan wears 30 and Drew wears 20.