DETROIT — The Red Wings beat Buffalo with two hands tied behind their back.
Well, technically, it was with two players in the penalty box, but the idea is the same. The Sabres couldn’t do anything during two long five-on-three power plays. Throw in a handful of fruitless regular power plays, and the season-opening result was inevitable.
Buffalo’s power play faltered big-time Wednesday, and Detroit rode the momentum to a 2-1 victory. The Sabres went 0 for 7 on the power play, including a pair of two-man advantages at key times of the game.
“We hung around long enough and got one, so we were still in it at the end,” coach Ron Rolston said. “But, obviously, our power play didn’t help us.”
The Sabres had their first chance to make Detroit pay in the opening minutes, when a goal could change the tenor of the game. The second opportunity would have put them within a goal midway through the contest.
Instead, the Sabres are 0-1.
“We didn’t move the puck well,” forward Thomas Vanek said. “We didn’t make any plays. We were just trying to blast them through people. No crisp passing. It’s something we’ll have to work on.”
The season opener obviously didn’t go as the Sabres hoped.
They have a chance to make amends in the home opener when the Ottawa Senators visit First Niagara Center on Friday.
The Sabres need to bring the drive they showed in the final period when they refused to let the Red Wings coast home.
Zemgus Girgensons scored in his NHL debut with 7:24 left to cut Detroit’s lead to 2-1. Brian Flynn got in the way of goaltender Jimmy Howard’s clearing attempt, and the puck hopped to the front. Girgensons scored his first goal on a backhand to give the Sabres some short-lived hope.
“It wasn’t a game that got away from us,” said Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller, who made 32 saves. “It was a game we were in. If we play that kind of hockey all year against good hockey teams, we’re going to be on the winning side of some of those.”
They’ll need to shoot more. Buffalo totaled 20 shots, including only seven on its seven power plays.
“We don’t shoot,” an agitated Rolston said. “If you don’t shoot, you don’t score a goal.”
There were empty seats in The Joe, but the atmosphere wasn’t lacking. The home crowd chanted, “Let’s go, Red Wings,” early and often. The Red Wings gave them plenty of reasons to stay loud.
The work of Detroit’s penalty killers helped bring immediate thoughts of Buffalo’s historically bad power play at the start of last year.
The Sabres had a 5-for-76 drought, but they had an ideal chance this season to move in the right direction.
Henrik Zetterberg departed for high-sticking with 3:32 off the clock. Jonathan Ericsson joined him in the box 29 seconds later for closing his hand on the puck, giving Buffalo a two-man advantage for 1:31.
Vanek and Steve Ott tipped pucks for chances, but Howard and the penalty killers earned a standing ovation by keeping the game scoreless.
The crowd stood again for goals just 36 seconds apart as the Sabres entered the first intermission of the year in a 2-0 hole.
Mikael Samuelsson showed his hand-eye coordination on the opening goal, tipping Cory Emmerton’s pass out of midair and over Miller with 7:55 left.
With the arena still buzzing, Pavel Datsyuk made it 2-0. He collected a turnover by rookie Rasmus Ristolainen, cut to the middle past Drew Stafford and lofted a backhand past Miller with 7:19 to go.
“They got two quick on us,” Rolston said. “We’d obviously like to get out of that with one and regroup.”