Wings witness 'maturation process' paying off for Sabres

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Detroit Red Wings center Frans Nielsen (51) controls the puck next to Buffalo Sabres center Casey Mittelstadt during the second period on Saturday.

Detroit — No team had fewer points in the NHL last season than the Buffalo Sabres.

A quarter of the way into this season, no team has more points than the Sabres after Saturday’s games.

The Sabres defeated the Red Wings on Saturday, 3-2, in a shootout for Buffalo's ninth consecutive victory.

With 34 points (16-6-2), the Sabres are leading the NHL and the way they looked for large amounts of the time Saturday, it’s no wonder why.

“They have a good thing going over there,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “They have a lot of confidence about them, the way they’re playing. They’re winning a lot of games and you can tell they’re playing with confidence.”

Goaltender Jimmy Howard also saw a Sabres team that looked much different from the past few seasons.

“They’ve got a swag to them,” Howard said. “They’re out there playing, hounding the puck, they’re on top of you. It’s a lot different compared to last year.”

The Sabres added defenseman Rasmus Dahlin as the first overall pick in the Entry Draft, after finishing last and winning the draft lottery.

Add Dahlin to a roster of young talent like forwards Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart (who won Saturday’s game in the shootout) and Casey Mittelstadt and defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen, with acquired forwards Jeff Skinner (18 goals) and Conor Sheary in trades and the Sabres have revamped their roster.

“There’s a maturation process young players go through,” said Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill, noting the Sabres have four players who are top-10 draft picks. “So those guys mature, they get better and better, and included in that, you include a No. 1 overall (Dahlin) that many feel is a generational guy.

“You trade for Skinner and Sheary, and you have more talent, so confidence grows.”

Friendly rivalry

Dylan Larkin and Eichel were teammates on the USA national program, have played together in international tournaments for Team USA, and have developed a good friendship.

So when they face each other, one can sense there’s a friendly rivalry, which Eichel got the edge on (barely) with Saturday’s shootout win.

“I do, absolutely,” Larkin said as to whether he gets a little more excited playing against Eichel. “We played together, and we’re pretty close. He’s having a great season, he looks healthy. He’s so tough to handle, so strong and such a great skater.

“I got him in the face-off circle; he didn’t like that.”

Eichel leads the Sabres with 27 points (he has 22 assists) and has been a key reason for Buffalo’s impressive start.

“It’s early and we want to keep this going, we want to win as many games as we can,” Eichel said. “From where we came from the last few years and last year, everyone has stepped up this year and committed to putting our best foot forward.

“It’s a great feeling, but we still have a lot to accomplish.”

Ice chips

The Red Wings’ four-game home win streak was snapped, but their four-game home point streak (4-0-1) is their longest since a seven-game stretch (5-0-2) from Dec. 29, 2017 to Jan. 5, 2018.

…The Wings fell to 17-3 in their last 20 shootouts, which still leads the NHL in terms of victories since Feb. 20, 2016.

…The Wings recorded a point in 22 of their last 26 games against the Sabres (18-4-4).

…Six of the Wings’ last nine games have been decided in overtime or shootout.

…The Wings have allowed three or fewer goals in nine consecutive games.

Twitter: @tkulfan