The Sabres traveled to eastern Michigan last night to take on their new division rivals, the Detroit Red Wings. They took into Hockeytown a starting lineup that included 4 rookies (by definition Grigorenko and Pysyk are still rookies), 3 of which are teenagers. If you had the displeasure of watching the NBC Sports Network pregame show, you would think that Buffalo didn’t even belong in the same building as the mighty Red Wings. I’m convinced that Mike Milbury thinks the Sabres will go 0-82 this year and should be relegated to the AHL. It appeared that if he were to give the Sabres any compliment whatsoever he would spontaneously combust. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.
For the first two periods, the Sabres were outthought, outhustled, and just outplayed. They made Milbury look good, and that’s not an easy thing to do. It seemed every mistake was followed by another mistake, and the team was clearly out of sync. The young Sabres seemed nervous to carry the puck at all, and they forced passes repeatedly that were either off the mark or intercepted. You can’t play that way against Detroit and expect to come out ahead. With Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg leading the charge, they are one of the most polished teams in the NHL, and they’ll bury you if you make mistakes.
After two periods of lackluster, discombobulated play, the Sabres found themselves in a 2-0 hole. Both goals came within 36 seconds of each other in the first period. The first Detroit goal was scored by Mikael Samuelsson at 12:05 of the first period on a picture perfect tip of a bad angle shot by Cory Emmerton. He beat Miller to the high glove side by tucking the puck into the very top corner of the net. Henrik Tallinder was caught a little flat footed on the outside rush by Emmerton and Tyler Myers probably could have played his man, Samuelsson, a little tougher, but all in all it was just a really nice goal.
Just some 30 seconds later, Pavel Datsyuk intercepted a poor Rasmus Ristolainen clearing attempt inside of the blue line and buried a wicked backhander into the back of the Buffalo net. Just like that, it’s 2-0 Detroit. Neither of the goals were Ryan Miller’s fault. The tip by Samuelsson wouldn’t have been stopped by any goalie, and Pavel Datsyuk doesn’t miss many chances when he’s allowed to walk into the slot.
The Sabres had their chances in the first two periods too. A normally disciplined team, the Red Wings took several ill advised penalties in the first two stanzas. The Sabres had two extended 5 on 3 powerplays, the first for 1:31 and the second for :51. During the first of those two man advantages, it took them 1:05 to get their first shot on Jimmy Howard and had a total of 2 shots on goal in that 1:31 timeframe. During the second 5 on 3, the Sabres weren’t able to get a shot on goal. All together, the Sabres were 0 for 7 on the powerplay with 7 shots on net in 11:36 of man advantage time. All of their powerplay time came in the first two periods.
The Sabres were finally able to break through Jimmy Howard 12:36 into the third when rookie teenager Zemgus Girgensons potted a backhander into the back of the net for Buffalo’s first goal of the season. The goal came after a great effort on the forecheck by Brian Flynn.
After a clear in by Girgensons, Howard played the puck behind the net and Flynn, with the most hustle I saw from any Sabres player all night, deflected his clearing attempt against the boards and it popped out to Girgensons who finished the play. A nice effort play by the young Sabres line.
Newly appointed Alternate Captain, Christian Ehrhoff, led all Sabres in ice time with 25:17 while Cody Hodgson led the forwards with a career high 23:22 of ice. Four Sabres (Ristolainen, Pysyk, Ehrhoff, and Hodgson) had three shots on goal each to lead the team. As a team, they were outshot 34-20 by Detroit; including 27-13 while 5 on 5.
The three teenagers saw plenty of ice as well. Ristolainen logged 16:44 of ice, including 4:04 on the powerplay which was third among Sabres defensemen. At times he looked lost and like he didn’t belong, but we’ll just chalk that up to nerves and the excitement of playing in his first NHL game. I also saw some things that I liked about his game. He seems to understand that getting the puck to the net on the powerplay is crucial and on more than one occasion made a nice side step to avoid the point defender and wrist a shot at the net.
He also improved throughout the game. After an abysmal first period, he looked much more comfortable and at home in the second and third periods.
Girgensons saw 11:23 of ice and was the only teenager to record a point, but he wasn’t noticeable for most of his shifts. He too had a couple bad gaffes in the first and second period but settled down in the third. Flynn created his goal, but give Zemgus credit for finishing; something that this team has been pretty poor at the last couple years. Hopefully the goal will give him more confidence to go out and play the high energy game that got him to this stage.
Mikhail Grigorenko is the third teenager on the roster. He skated with Flynn and Girgensons on the third line for Buffalo and logged 13:08 of ice. He ends the game with a +1 rating, simply because he was on the ice for Flynn’s strong forecheck that led to Girgensons goal. I’ve yet to see anything from Grigorenko that impresses me. Just another ho hum game from him. The same type of game that earned him 5 points in 25 games last season.
In the end, the Sabres went into a hostile Joe Louis Arena, played poorly against an experienced Red Wings team and lost by one goal. If you had told me before the game that they would lose 2-1, I would have been okay with that. It’s something to build off of. If that’s the worst game they play all year, they’ll be okay. Now the first game jitters are behind them and it’s time to focus on beating Ottawa at home on Friday night.