DETROIT — Zemgus Girgensons didn’t get a win in his NHL debut, but he did earn a keepsake after an unforgettable moment.
The rookie was the only member of the Buffalo Sabres to score during a 2-1 loss to Detroit on Wednesday.
“It definitely would be a better moment if we won,” Girgensons said in Joe Louis Arena. “Still, it was my first NHL goal. I’ll take the best out of it that I can.”
Girgensons took advantage of a glorious chance to connect in his first big-league game. Linemate Brian Flynn got in the way of a clearing pass by goaltender Jimmy Howard, and the puck bounced to the front. Girgensons sent a backhand home with 7:24 to play, and Christian Ehrhoff fished the souvenir out of the net.
“Everything has happened so quick for me,” said Girgensons, who was selected 14th overall in 2012. “It’s a special moment.”
Uncommon poise helped Girgensons make the roster. His ascent to the NHL was hastened by staying calm despite pressures that could make their peers wither.
No one, though, could be expected to remain composed on the day of his debut. He had a rough first shift before slowly getting the feel of the game.
“Before the game, warm-ups, I didn’t feel nervous at all,” Girgensons said. “Then I just stepped out and just understood where I am. My hands were shaking for a little bit. I think the whole first period was a little bit nervous.”
Rasmus Ristolainen, selected eighth overall in this year’s draft, also made his debut. He had three shots and was minus-1.
“It’s a big day,” Ristolainen said. “I just have to keep working hard and get more games, get as many games as I can.”
The Sabres had three teenagers in the lineup against the Red Wings: Girgensons (19), Ristolainen (18) and Mikhail Grigorenko (19). They had not used more than two teens during the course of a season since 1995-96, when Jay McKee, Martin Biron, Wayne Primeau, Vaclav Varada and Curtis Brown earned ice time.
Despite the influx of youth, the Sabres are only marginally younger than last season. They finished the 2013 season with an average age of 26.6. They’re starting this campaign at 26.5.
Sabres goalie Ryan Miller stopped a penalty shot by Cory Emmerton in the second period. Miller has stopped 14 of the 16 penalty shots he’s faced in his career.
The Red Wings moved into “The Joe” during the 1979-80 season. Rolston was there.
“The first year it opened up we had season tickets, my family did in ’80,” Rolston said.
The Michigan native grew up an hour away in Flint and played on the rinks of Detroit. It was therefore fitting that his coaching debut without an interim title came against the Red Wings.
“It’s obviously one of those special moments to be able to represent Buffalo Sabres, obviously the organization, but being in Joe Louis Arena and open up here,” he said.
The Red Wings were busy during the offseason, kicking off free agency by signing big-name forwards Daniel Alfredsson and Stephen Weiss. The 40-year-old Alfredsson, who’s in his 18th season, played his first game for someone other than the Ottawa Senators.
“It’s just been a process here of getting used to everything, the guys, the room, playing my first exhibition game at home here last week,” said the notorious Sabres tormentor, who entered with 84 points in 89 games against Buffalo. “I can’t say I’ve felt any different. It feels like you’re part of the team. Obviously, this being a great organization, it’s a lot of fun to be here.
“It’s been pretty much what I expected. They’re very professional, pay attention to details. I think we have very good skill on this team, but the basic message for everybody is if you play within the structure, we have a good foundation, our skill is going to show at the end of the night. That’s kind of the theme.”
Weiss spent 12 seasons in the Florida Panthers’ organization and also is impressed with his new team.
“All the guys have been great since the first day I got here and met everyone,” he said. “They’ve been fantastic welcoming us, and they really helped me out off the ice, as well. Anything we need to make it more comfortable, they’ve done that.”