One step forward, two steps back: Red Wings blitzed by Buffalo early, fall 5-1

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit —  There are a lot of teams that have had much success against the Red Wings in recent seasons, but you wouldn’t necessarily think of Buffalo.

The Sabres haven't exactly been among the NHL's elite in recent seasons, and after another hot start this season they have fallen way back in the standings.

Still, the Sabres never seem to lose anymore against the Wings, Sunday was the latest example with a 5-1 victory at Little Caesars Arena.

BOX SCORE: Sabres 5, Red Wings 1

That made it 10 wins in 14 games (10-2-2) for Buffalo against the Wings since the start of the 2016-17 season — including seven of the last eight games played in Detroit.

The Sabres (20-19-7) scored three goals in the first 12 minutes, 43 seconds, and despite a Madison Bowey goal in the second period that gave the Wings brief hope, Buffalo responded with two quick goals in the first 3:40 of the third period to send most of the families attending on Kids Day home early.

“In certain areas, we took steps forward in terms of playing the way we want to play, we have to play, to be successful,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “It was as good a second period we’ve played all season, maybe as good period as we’ve played all year in terms of playing to our identity.”

But the Wings gave up two power-play goals and one shorthanded goal, a bad night on specialty teams, to have any success.

Detroit Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard (35) stops a shot as Buffalo Sabres left wing Scott Wilson (20) sets a screen in the first period.

“When you lose that battle (special teams) it’s going to be tough on you,” forward Justin Abdelkader said. “We have to continue to get better each and every night on special teams.”

Goaltender Jimmy Howard stopped 22 shots and suffered his 15th loss in 18 decisions (2-15-1). Howard has lost 11 consecutive decisions and hasn't won since Oct. 29 when he defeated Edmonton.

Howard got the start when Jonathan Bernier, who started the past three games, was hurt late in the game Friday against Ottawa, Blashill said.

Bernier practiced Saturday and was expect to get the start against Buffalo.

But Blashill said Bernier woke up Sunday to more pain than was expected.

Blashill will know more about Bernier’s availability this week after tests Monday morning.

“I can tell you he (Howard) looked great in practice (Saturday), and he’s worked hard, and he didn’t expect to play (Sunday),” Blashill said. “He’s like the rest of the guys, he has to keep digging.”

On several of Buffalo’s goals, Howard had little chance against the Sabres who were in prime scoring areas.

“We have to help Howie more than we did,” forward Dylan Larkin said. “We have to manage the puck more than we did, we can’t leave him out to dry like that. It was unacceptable by us.”

Evan Rodrigues scored the first two Buffalo goals — his first two of the season — and Zemgus Girgensons (shorthanded) had first-period Buffalo goals. 

Girgensons went in on a breakaway, taking advantage of a misplayed pass between Filip Zadina and Robby Fabbri.

Of the power play, Blashill said, “those guys have to execute way better, that’s just the way it is. Those five guys are the guys that should be out there and they have to execute way better.”

Zach Bogosian (first goal) and Risto Ristolainen (power play) had third-period goals.

Sabres goaltender Linus Ullmark stopped 21 shots to go 5-0-2 in his career against the Wings.

The Wings (12-31-3) saw their modest two-game win streak end.

“It’s been a tough stretch for sure, a tough year, but we have to have that next game mentality,” Abdelkader said. “When pucks find a way to go in, we have to stay with it and can’t let down.”

Twitter: @tkulfan