Sabres-Red Wings Preview
With a goalie dilemma seemingly behind them, the Detroit Red Wings continue to stockpile wins and move toward the top of the Eastern Conference.
If recent history is any indication, the Red Wings should anticipate another step forward Sunday night when they host the lowly Buffalo Sabres.
Detroit (25-11-9) has fared well since All-Star goaltender Jimmy Howard suffered a groin injury Jan. 10, thanks in large part to Petr Mrazek. He has started and won each of the last three games with a 1.63 goals-against average in that time.
Mrazek had 34 saves Saturday in a 5-2 win over Central Division-leading Nashville that kept Detroit tied with Montreal for second in the Atlantic at 59 points. First-place Tampa Bay leads the East with 62.
The Red Wings’ usual backup in net, Jonas Gustavsson, is also injured, leaving the reserve duties to Tom McCollum. The 25-year-old McCollum appeared in one game for Detroit on March 30, 2011, and has not played since.
Whoever starts in net Sunday will benefit from Detroit’s thriving offense. Tomas Tatar reached the 20-goal milestone with two tallies Saturday and Gustav Nyquist added a goal and an assist to give him 13 points in his last 11 games.
"He’s a very dangerous scorer," Stephen Weiss said of Tatar to Detroit’s official website. "He’s got a real good shot and he’s got a lot of energy. He’s a fun guy to be around, a fun guy to be around in practice.
"He practices hard and he works at it. He’s turned into quite the star."
The Red Wings also got a pair of power-play goals to give them an NHL-best 41.
The offensive production could certainly continue against the Sabres, whose most recent visit to Detroit on Dec. 23 resulted in a 6-3 loss that marked a season-high goal total for the Red Wings. Detroit has had at least three in five of the last six meetings.
Buffalo (14-29-3) has been largely helpless when it plays at Joe Louis Arena, losing each of it last six games there and 14 of 15 dating to 1996.
Their overall play this season has been equally futile regardless of opponent. The Sabres fell 4-3 to Philadelphia on Saturday for their 10th consecutive regulation loss – the longest such streak since Pittsburgh went 10 straight without a point in 2005-06.
The Sabres rank last in the NHL with 1.72 goals per game and have managed only 11 over their 10-game skid.
"You can talk about goal scoring; I know goal scoring in this league is tough," coach Ted Nolan told Buffalo’s official site. "But if you don’t go to the net, carry the puck in, you don’t fight your way in there, you’re not going to have a chance. There’s not even a hope of scoring a goal if you don’t get to the net or you don’t shoot."
Jhonas Enroth figures to be in net Sunday, looking to bounce back after allowing a career-worst seven goals to Minnesota on Thursday. Enroth is 11-16-2 and his 3.33 GAA ranks second-worst among goalies with at least 20 starts.
Detroit fell to Buffalo 3-2 in a shootout Nov. 2 before beating the Sabres in the next two contests, most recently 3-1 on Tuesday.