DETROIT – The Red Wings scored twice in the first period of their season opener against the Sabres.
Thanks to Jimmy Howard and the Red Wings’ penalty-kill units, however, that’s all they really needed.
Detroit picked up a 2-1 win over Buffalo Wednesday evening at Joe Louis Arena to start their 2013-14 NHL season.
Howard, in a crease battle with fellow U.S. Olympic Team hopeful Ryan Miller, stopped 19 of the 20 shots he faced, while Detroit held Buffalo scoreless on five power-play opportunities.
“Yeah I thought our penalty kill was good,” coach Mike Babcock said after the game. “Actually I thought our power play was real dangerous, too. We didn’t score on it but I thought it was really dangerous. In fairness to them, they hung around, their back-end moved the puck good and at the end it’s a one shot game. I would have liked to see us be a little more intense, stay out of the box more, and put some more pressure on them in the O-zone, but good win for us.”
Mikael Samuelsson and Pavel Datsyuk scored for the Red Wings, who will now head to Raleigh, N.C., for a Friday night contest with the Carolina Hurricanes.
It was the first game against one of their new Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference foes for the Red Wings; Howard admitted that it will take some time before they are truly accustomed to playing against foreign competition.
“It’s a tough call, I mean, being in the West for so long, we just, we knew what was going to happen,” the Wings’ goaltender said. “…these situations are new, there are new players out there that we aren’t familiar with, but you know, you’re going to get familiar with them relatively fast. The video, it does help, especially when we do that before the game.”
It was a new experience for Daniel Alfredsson, as well. He and Stephen Weiss made their Red Wing debuts, and the former Ottawa Senators captain said he did feel some butterflies before the contest.
“Well I was a little bit nervous before, but once the puck drops, it’s not that big of a difference,” Alfredsson said. “I thought we started the game well tonight, and finished it well, as well. We ran into some penalty troubles in the middle part, but overall, it’s a big win.”
After a rousing opening ceremony to welcome the team back to NHL action, the Red Wings started the game with a five-on-three penalty kill, thanks to a high-sticking call on Johan Franzen and a delay-of-game call (covering the puck with his hand) on Jonathan Ericsson.
However, Detroit held Buffalo at bay, and took control of the contest soon after.
At the 12:05 mark of the first period, Mikael Samuelsson tipped a pass from Cory Emmerton over Miller’s left shoulder.
It was Samuelsson’s first goal of the year, but it was a significant moment for Emmerton, as well; the Red Wings’ fourth line center was placed on waivers earlier this week.
Yet Emmerton was back in the line-up for opening night, and earned himself a penalty shot in the second period to go with his primary assist in the first.
“Regardless, you want to go out and you want to contribute in any way, every night,” Emmerton said. “I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a little extra fire there, but that’s how you need to play every night. Tonight, I thought our line did a real good job, and obviously Sammy made an unbelievable goal on the tip there. As a fourth line, your job is to be hard on teams and have the puck more than them, and make it hard for them. When you score goals, it’s obviously going to help your team, and I think we did a really good job tonight.”
Pavel Datsyuk increased the Red Wings’ lead to 2-0 just 36 seconds after Samuelsson’s strike, beating Miller with a highlight reel-worthy backhander from the slot.
It was an unassisted goal for the Red Wings’ superstar, who signed an extension with the club over the summer.
The two teams played to a scoreless second period, despite another two-man advantage for the Sabres late in the middle frame.
Buffalo’s lone goal came at the 12:36 mark of the third period, when Howard’s clearing attempt hit Brian Flynn’s body, and the puck bounced onto the waiting stick of Zemgus Girgensons. Howard managed to get back to the goal, but Girgensons’ shot found the top corner, cutting the Red Wings’ lead in half with roughly seven minutes to go.
“It was tough to hear, and I didn’t really hear anything, so, I’m the one that makes the call, and I decided to go hard around,” Howard said. “It was unfortunate that it hit him and bounced right up into the slot onto the guy’s stick. It’s my bad.”
The Wings maintained the one-goal lead, however, and left Joe Louis Arena with their first victory of the season. Their next home contest will be Thursday, Oct. 10, when they host the Phoenix Coyotes.