Buffalo, N.Y. — Standing in the visitor’s dressing room with gauze in his left nostril, having checked his teeth in the big mirrors outside the shower room — and noting that all seemed to have remained in place — Dylan Larkin suggested the high-stick to his face might have been helpful.
“Maybe it woke me up,” Larkin joked.
Not quite. He had played well.
Although their offense continues to sputter, delivering some fine play but too few goals, Larkin took matters into his hands Friday at Buffalo and produced a 3-0 win, with help from Henrik Zetterberg, who scored his ninth goal of the season, on a fine assist by Luke Glendening, who also scored into an empty net, and Petr Mrazek’s third shutout of the season.
“I guess that kind of woke me up a little bit,” Larkin said, with a laugh, of the high-stick to his face by Marcus Foligno, that provided a four-minute power play at 7:19 of the third period in a scoreless game.
“It ticked me off a little bit, so I was playing with some edge.”
Moments after the score remained 0-0 when the Wings proved ineffective, yet again, on that long power play, a “ticked-off” Larkin got to work.
With the gauze hanging, he cruised into the Sabres zone and took a fine feed from Glendening about 18 feet to goalie Robin Lehner’s left.
Lehner had to move quickly from his right to his left. He got there, but Larkin’s shot from an extreme angle, almost along the goal line, went five-hole on Lehner, striking his trailing right leg as he moved across, and deflected into the net at 12:01 of the third period.
His 15th goal gave the Wings a 1-0 lead and went a long way toward alleviating all sorts of frustration, 52 minutes into the game.
Glendening’s awareness, hustle and, ultimately, hands were outstanding throughout the sequence, and Larkin gave his fellow former Wolverine great credit while narrating a play-by-play of Glendening’s work.
“Yeah, that’s the kind of player he is,” Larkin said.
Two minutes later, Larkin controlled the puck out toward the blue line in the Sabres end.
Such is his impact, only 47 games into his first season, that each of the six Sabres on the ice looked directly toward the rookie as his linemate, Zetterberg, skated behind all of them, except Lehner.
When Larkin hit him with a pinpoint pass, Zetterberg glided in and beat the goalie.
“Yeah, I saw them all looking, and I saw him sneak right back there,” Larkin said. “I think everyone in the rink, except those five guys, knew he was wide open.”
The Red Wings finally had some goals and a rare two-goal lead at 17:09 of the third period.
Glendening, deservedly, added an empty-net goal, his third of the season.
“It was a tight game,” Zetterberg said. “We knew we had to try to get as many shots as possible.
“Eventually, the puck will go in.
“That’s the only thing you can do, when you struggle to score.
“Petr was really good, tonight, again, but I thought — except for the power play — we had a pretty good game.”
As for Larkin, Zetterberg was matter of fact.
“He just keeps going, and he’s a good player. He works hard,” Zetterberg said.
“You saw his skill set today, on my goal.”
But, through long stretches of this one, the search for offense continued for the Red Wings.
Long portions of the game were played with what coach Jeff Blashill calls good “process.” Despite six giveaways and a 50-50 split in the circles through two periods, the Wings were often in control of the puck, taking the most shots and, generally, generating the most chances.
But their failure to score, except for rare occasions, was only marginally affected by Lehner.
And that happened, despite the Wings best and stated intentions.
The Wings outshot the Sabres 12-8 in the first period, but it generally seemed as though play was about even. They managed three shots on two power plays, but were generally ineffective with the man advantage.
The Wings first big scoring chance of the game came at 2:54 of the second, when Henrik Zetterberg fed Justin Abdelkader perfectly, from behind the Sabres net.
Standing at the top of the crease, Abdelkader seemed to shoot well, but Lehner made an outstanding save. It was his biggest of the game.