A slow start and a poor night on special teams left the Detroit Red Wings with another loss.
A strong second half Monday at Joe Louis Arena saw the Wings try hard to continue the scoring touch from their previous two outings, but the Buffalo Sabres refused to surrender what ended as a 2-1 final, nipping the Wings’ nascent winning streak at two.
“They won the special teams battles,” Henrik Zetterberg said. “I thought we better 5-on-5, except maybe in the first. Second and third periods, we worked hard and created a lot of chances.
“When you have that many chances, you would like to see at least one go in.”
The benefit to losing as they carom towards the end of the regular season is improved odds in the draft lottery. While the bigger picture beckons losing, team personnel remain focused on daily improvement.
“They had two power plays goals, we had four chances and had none,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “That is, in the end, the difference in the game. So that was that. Then I didn’t think in the first we were good enough. Those two things are what stands out to me.
“We were much better in the second and third, but need a better first. Our power play generated six shots, but it didn’t generate a goal. We obviously needed one, especially late in the game.”
The Wings fired 30 shots at Robin Lehner during the last 40 minutes. Only one, from Tomas Tatar, went in.
Tatar scored for the fourth time in the last three games, to pull the Wings within a goal headed into the third period. Petr Mrazek had made 19 saves through two periods. The Wings got their third power play early in the third period. Mike Green tried to convert on a wraparound attempt, and Lehner made saves on Dylan Larkin and Riley Sheahan, as well as a slap shot try from Niklas Kronwall.
A fourth power play materialized with 6:35 to play in regulation. Frans Nielsen tried a shot off a faceoff, but otherwise the Wings had a hard time creating chances.
After converting twice in each of the last two games, the power play disappointed start to finish this night.
Jack Eichel high-sticked Larkin in the face early in the first period to grant the Wings a power play. Zetterberg's unit ended up being out for the entire shift, and despite having possession the chunk of time, could only funnel one shot at Lehrer. Mrazek was busier, making saves on a slap shot from Zach Bogosian and a long wrist shot from Brady Austin.
“Our start was not as good as it has been lately,” Zetterberg said. “But we found our legs and we got better.”
The Wings fell behind when the Sabres used their NHL second-ranked power play to score at 10:59, when Eichel ripped a shot from the top of the left circle while Sam Reinhart provided a net-front presence.
“It was quick release,” Mrazek said. “I didn’t see it, there was guy there.”
The Sabres built up a 7-2 edge in shots as they gained momentum. A goal post saved Tyler Ennis’ shot from being a two-goal deficit. Meanwhile, Andreas Athanasiou shot wide on two quality chances, and both Nielsen and Anthony Mantha were stymied as they dug for the puck in the paint. Shots were 13-5 to Buffalo.
The Wings didn’t respond as they should have to start the second period, continuing to play too much in their own zone and making Mrazek work hard to keep the deficit down.
Another man advantage inflicted more damage, when Matt Moulson got a piece of Ennis’ shot, settled the puck and tapped it into Detroit’s net for a 2-0 lead, at 8:59 of the second period.
The Wings replied with an even-strength goal at 12:53. Green threw pass into the paint that Tatar redirected for his 21st goal of the season.
“I just tried to skate full speed down by the net and Mike made a beautiful pass,” Tatar said.
That stoked some momentum for the Wings, who finished the period with 12 shots.