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Red Wings-Sabres wrap-up: you’ve got to survive before you can thrive, and the Wings survived

The Red Wings flew to New Jersey for Monday's game between the Wings and Devils--the final in a stretch of 6 games played over the course of 10 nights--having finally won a damn game.

Detroit snapped its 3-game losing streak and have hopefully ended a stretch in which the Wings had earned an ugly 3-5-and-3 record via a slightly sloppy but still useful 4-3 victory over the Buffalo Sabres.

Detroit definitely has more than a few issues to iron out, from the recurrence of being out-shot on a regular basis (35-23 on Saturday), surrendering multi-goal leads and playing with utterly inept special teams (the PP isn't great and the PK's dreadful), but you can't repair everything at once. As long as the Wings are "in the process" of ironing out their issues, they can use this win as a blueprint for what they're going to have to do as their 6-game road trip continues--survive and attempt to thrive by any means necessary.

For our friends from Buffalo, Saturday's game was a "should've," as the Buffalo News's John Vogl noted:

Aside from the scoreboard, the Sabres won nearly every statistical category against Detroit. They had a 35-23 shot edge, a 25-11 advantage in hits, and blocked 19 shots compared to seven for the Red Wings. Buffalo won 52 percent of the faceoffs, with Ryan O’Reilly going 16-12 for 57 percent.

Buffalo rallied from 2-0 and 3-2 deficits as well, but the Wings scored the last goal of the game, and one of their goal-scorers told Vogl that it was the Red Wings doing the teaching on Saturday:

“Good teams find a way to win, and if we want to be one of them we’re going to have to find ways to win in situations like that,” Reinhart said. “We can learn a lot from a team like that with a lot of experience. They just kind of bear down and stick with it right to the end. Obviously, we’re learning every day. We’re sometimes there where we can battle and bear down late when it’s close, but consistency with that is something we’re going to work on and keep learning from.”

As Reinhart and Jack Eichel near the midway point of their rookie seasons, the lessons come almost daily. Many of them are rough ones as Buffalo sits near the bottom of the NHL with a 15-20-4 record.

“We would have liked to get a point or anything out of this game because we think we played a good game,” Eichel said. “It’s a tough one to swallow. You think you play a good game and then they score one with three minutes left to win it. We need to figure out a way to get over that hump.”

While the lessons about losing are coming lately, it’s also clear the No. 2 overall picks are learning what it takes to succeed. Eichel scored twice to tie the Red Wings’ Dylan Larkin for first among rookies with 13 goals. Eichel is fourth in rookie scoring with 25 points. Reinhart also scored, moving to seventh among first-year players in goals (seven) and points (16).

“Just preparing for games, I think that’s super important,” Eichel said. “I’m starting to get better at it. I’m starting to understand the game a little bit better.”

This game may end up looking like a pivotal moment in the Atlantic Division rivalry between the Wings and Sabres, as BuffaloSabres.com's Jourdan LaBarber noted...

At 15-20-4, the Sabres now trail the third-place Red Wings by 11 points in the Atlantic Division standings. Given the way the team has played and developed this season, Sabres coach Dan Bylsma had envisioned a different outcome as they returned from their holiday break.

"We're in a process of developing our team and where we're at," Bylsma said. "I think that, in a number of situations, we're right there … it is a fine line and it is again tonight, winning and losing hockey games. That's where we have to develop; that's where we have to grow as a team and get better."

And Bylsma made quite the declaration to WGR 550:

Dan Byslma: "The way this team has played, how hard we've played, I am a little bit shocked [about] where we're at."

"With some victories, adding points, we'd be right in the mix...the Detroit Red Wings, which are in a playoff spot right now, we'd be right in there. Having lost four in a row, now you're looking up at a distance of 11 points. It's a lot different feeling."

Zach Bogosian and Josh Gorges agreed, as they told the Buffalo News's Mike Harrington...

“We’re not happy with where we are,” defenseman Josh Gorges said. “We all expect more out of ourselves. There’s always a learning curve and a process to be dealt with and we’re still going through that in terms of how to be a good, consistent team.”

...

“It’s nice to show that we have some fight but we have to be able to finish a little better,” Bogosian said. Of the winning goal, Bogosian said he had to watch more replays but said glumly, “It happened quick. He cuts to the middle, quick shot on net.”

The Sabres are 1-4-1 in their last six. They face red-hot Florida here Tuesday, then have road games in Chicago, Winnipeg and Minnesota, followed by home games against Boston and Washington on back to back nights. They are in serious trouble.

They battle but they’re still overmatched. It’s the GM’s job to keep fixing that. Waiting until the summer isn’t acceptable.

“If care was a factor and something we were concerned about, we’d have issues,” Gorges said. “That’s not a cause for concern with this group. We know that guys care. We fight. Guys play for the guy beside him.”

“I think everyone needs to look in the mirror,” Bogosian said. “Whether they’re open about it or not, as a team we have to be better.”

And the Sabres certainly felt that they measured up against Detroit, or nearly so, as they told Buffalo Hockey Beat's Bill Hoppe:

“I think in a number of situations we’re right there,” Bylsma said.

The Sabres were right there against the Wings. After Brad Richards and Riley Sheahan scored, Eichel wired a wicked wrist shot from the right circle past goalie Petr Mrazek at 14:26. Eichek zoomed in and tucked a shot past Mrazek’s left pad at 17:27.

After Henrik Zetterberg scored 2:27 into the third period, Reinhart tied it at 8:58.

Then Tatar beat Sabres goalie Chad Johnson from high in the slot.

“It’s a tough one to swallow,” Eichel said.

Reinhart added: “Good teams find a way to win. If we want to be one of them, we’re going to have to find ways to win in situations like that. We can learn a lot from a team like that with a lot of experience.”

The AP's recap will shift our perspectives from those of the Sabres to those of the Red Wings...

Pressure in Detroit's end got the Sabres their first power play when Darren Helm was whistled for hooking at 9:00 of the first period. Both Brian Gionta and Johan Larsson had in-tight chances to put Buffalo ahead, but Mrazek held the puck for a whistle. Soon after, Jamie McGinn picked Mrazek's clearing attempt off the right board, but couldn't beat Mrazek.

At the other end, Detroit took the lead because of Sheahan. Sheahan carried the puck down the left of the ice on a 2-on-1 break, and slid a pass past a sliding Mike Weber. Brad Richards snapped a one-time shot past Johnson to make it 1-0 at 12:59 of the first.

Sheahan finished with a goal and assist.

"It just gets your confidence going when you can contribute on the score sheet," Sheahan said. "It's huge."

After a quiet start to the second period, Gionta navigated around the check of Green to test Mrazek. Sheahan then increased Detroit's lead to 2-0 by deflecting Green's wrist shot past Johnson at 7:59 of the second.

Mrazek was back at it on the next rush, making a flashy glove save on Kane's hard shot from the slot.

"He saved us tonight," Zetterberg said. "There were some key moments and some big saves, and it makes it easier for us to play defense."

And getting confidence back was a theme for the Wings, as they told NHL.com's Joe Yerdon:

Tatar received a pass from defenseman Mike Green, skated into the Sabres zone, pulled up and took a wrist shot that beat Sabres goalie Chad Johnson to the blocker side for his 12th goal of the season.

"When you're going through a stretch where the puck won't go in, you obviously think about it," Tatar said. "But we got the two points tonight, which is huge, and it feels good."

Tatar's prior goal came in a 3-2 shootout loss to the New Jersey Devils on Dec. 11, a span of eight games. The Red Wings (19-13-7) had lost three in a row.

"I think it's important for Tatar; I think he's actually played well," Detroit coach Jeff Blashill said. "We talked about it yesterday, we knew his 10-game or 11-game stretch has been tough, but honestly he's played well. He's had chances. He's competed hard. So when you see that, you know the guy's going to come out of it if he can just persevere through it and not let it crush him. And I think confidence is a big thing, and scoring breeds confidence, so it's certainly important."

Detroit lost three in a row in regulation after going 10-2-6 since Nov. 16.

"I think every win feels good," Blashill said. "What I liked is we had two things we really wanted to do a better job: We wanted to manage the puck better, I thought we did that overall, and we wanted a real high compete level. Not that the compete level hasn't been high, but we thought it needed to be heightened. I thought it was heightened. Throughout our lineup, guys were battling hard. ... I was happy with our process."

The Detroit News's Ted Kulfan wondered aloud whether Petr Mrazek's seized the starter's job...

Mrazek stopped 32 shots, including a big stop on defenseman Zach Bogosian just after Tomas Tatar’s goal had given the Red Wings a 4-3 lead, and had timely saves throughout while ending the Red Wings’ three-game losing streak.

“He’s got an ability to seize the moment,” said coach Jeff Blashill of Mrazek’s key saves. “That’s one thing he’s done real good. Not that Jimmy doesn’t, Jimmy does as well, but Pete has done that throughout his career. You don’t want to give up a breakaway there obviously at the end of regulation but he made the big save on it.”

Blashill didn’t name a starter for Monday’s game in New Jersey, although with the day in between games, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Mrazek in net again.

“We look at things day to day,” Blashill said. “What Petr did tonight was make big saves at the big moments to ensure the win. That’s something he’s done throughout his career. We’ll continue to evaluate.”

Mrazek wouldn’t get into speculation he is putting a stranglehold on the No. 1 goaltender’s job.

“I’m trying to work hard on the ice every day and stay big in the net and try to make saves,” Mrazek said. “It helps a goaltender when you play a lot of games and you just get confident and get experience. I wouldn’t talk about it (the starter’s job). The season is long and there are lot of games left.”

Seizing the moment isn't seizing the game, as Mrazek pointed out to the Free Press's George Sipple...

The Wings had a 2-0 lead before Jack Eichel scored a pair of second-period goals for the Sabres to tie the game.

“The game is 60 minutes,” Mrazek said. “If it’s 2-0 in the first or second it doesn’t matter. We have to play hard for 60 minutes and stay sharp in the net.”

Blashill wouldn’t indicate whether he’ll continue to start Mrazek when the Wings visit New Jersey on Monday or whether he’ll start Jimmy Howard, who has been pulled from his last two starts. Mrazek has played in each of the Wings’ last seven games.

Mrazek said it helps a goaltender to get in a rhythm by playing consistently, but he dismissed talk about that this giving him a chance to establish himself as the No. 1 goaltender: “The season’s long and there’s lots of games left.”

And Mrazek told Kulfan that the Wings' most important achievement was a collective one:

"Obviously a big win for us after three games we didn't get any points," Mrazek said. "It's a big two points on the road. They pushed hard after we got the 4-3 lead and had some chances."

Buffalo tied the game 2-2 on two Jack Eichel goals in the second period. On the tying goal, Jonathan Ericsson and Pavel Datsyuk collided near center ice enabling Eichel to gather a loose puck, go in, and beat Mrazek for his 13th goal — tying Dylan Larkin for the rookie goals lead — at 17:27.

Eichel had cut the Red Wings lead to 2-1 with a power-play goal at 14:26, snapping a shot from the circle, with Mrazek screened by Jamie McGinn.

Sheahan set up Richards with the Red Wings' first goal on a 2-on-1 rush, then tipped Green's shot from the point on the power play, giving the Red Wings a 2-0 lead.

Getting a victory to begin a long road trip was a huge boost.

"You're comfortable playing at home, you stick to the same routine and when you're on the road you need to gut out wins like this," Sheahan said. "It's big for us."

As Sipple noted, Riley Sheahan starred in front of family and friends as he's from nearby St. Catherine's, Ontario...

Sheahan tipped in a shot by Mike Green at 7:59 of the second period. It was Sheahan’s sixth goal of the season and his third over his last six games.

“Just tried to stay in front,” Sheahan said of being in front of the net. “Our guys on the power play do a good job of getting shots through. Just tried to take away the goalie’s eyes and get my stick sort of available I got a good bounce off of it.”

Sheahan said there were “quite a few people to see” after the game. Sheahan is from St. Catharines, Ont., which is less than an hour away from Buffalo. He said it was special because his family doesn’t always get a chance to come to Detroit to see him play.

Sheahan said he works on tips after practice.

“Our D do such a good job at getting shots through,” Sheahan said. “Green did a great job and I was just fortunate to get a stick on it. When you can contribute on the scoresheet it’s huge. Definitely gets your confidence going and makes you feel comfortable.”

Sheahan impressed Wings coach Jeff Blashill.

“I thought Riley was great tonight,” Blashill said. “I just thought he was skating, was on the puck. He’s such a load when he’s got that type of jump in his legs. We’ve been happy with Riley all season. He’s had moments where he’s been great and I thought he was great tonight.”

And then Tatar came through in a pinch, as noted by Reuters...

Left winger Tomas Tatar and the Detroit Red Wings ended a pair of streaks Saturday afternoon. Tatar scored with 2:50 remaining to lead the Red Wings to a 4-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres. Tatar ended an eight-game scoring drought and the Red Wings ended a three-game losing streak.

"When you're going through a stretch where the puck won't go in you obviously think about it, but we got the two points tonight which is huge," Tatar said.

Left winger Henrik Zetterberg, center Brad Richards and center Riley Sheahan also scored for the Red Wings (19-13-7).

On the game-winner, Tatar cut inside the slot and ripped a hard wrist shot to the blocker side for his 12th goal of the year.

Tatar's game-winner came moments after the Sabres missed a chance to take a late lead when left winger Evander Kane's shot hit the post.

"I think it's important for Tatar," Detroit head coach Jeff Blashill said. "I think he's actually played well. We talked about it yesterday, we knew his (eight-game) stretch has been tough but honestly he's played well. He's had chances. He's competed hard. So when you see that, you know the guy's going to come out of it if he can just persevere through."

And the Windsor Star's Bob Duff:

The tally was not only a winner, it halted an eight-game goalless skid for Tatar, who led the Wings last season with 29 goals.

“It’s a good feeling,” Tatar said. “When you’re on a stretch and the puck won’t go in you obviously think about it, but there’s not really much you can do about it. You are getting your chances, you just can’t score a goal. Now hopefully the confidence is back on the stick and you can maybe hold on for a second and just do the right thing.”

Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg, who also scored to end a personal six-game drought, wasn’t concerned that Tatar’s touch would return.

“It’s always nice to see guys score who haven’t scored in a while,” Zetterberg said. “I’m not worried about him, though. He’s a hard worker and does everything right. But it’s nice to see him score again.”

Among MLive's Brendan Savage's post-game stats...

7 – Shots by Detroit's Gustav Nyquist, the most on either team.

7 – Points by Red Wings defenseman Brendan Smith in the last eight games after he assisted on Henrik Zetterberg's goal that made it 3-3 in the third period. This is the most productive stretch of Smith's young career.

...

45 – Points by the Red Wings, moving them into third place in the Atlantic Division, two points behind first-place Montreal.

And recap observations:

• The Sabres had the only two power plays of the first period but the Red Wings' penalty killers didn't allow a shot on either.

• Defenseman Brendan Smith drew an assist on Zetterberg's goal, giving him seven points in the last eight games.

...

• Buffalo's best chance in the first period came after Jonathan Ericsson turned the puck over in the corner. Reinhart stepped in front of an Ericsson pass and one-timed a shot from the left faceoff circle that was stopped by Mrazek.

Ericsson was nothing less than awful on Saturday, with his lack of conditioning catching up to him.

• The game marked the 12th time this season the Red Wings have blown a third-period lead. They've done it in all three games vs. Buffalo.

I'll let the captain take us out, via DetroitRedWings.com's Bill Roose:

Was today’s win a weight off your shoulders? “Yeah it was nice. When we had the 2-0 lead and they came back we found a way to get the two points.”

How much of a concern is it that your team is having trouble playing with a lead? “Today has nothing to do with that. They scored one on the power play and then it was a tough break on the second one. That will happen. We’ve just got to be positive that we had that two-goal lead.”

...

How big is it to get a win in the first of six straight road games? “It’s good. It’s nice to get a win again. I think we’ve been playing a little up and down. I think today was a little better and it was nice to get rewarded with two points.”

How big was it for Tatar to get a goal tonight, breaking out of his recent scoring slump? “It’s always nice to see guys score who haven’t scored in a while. I’m not worried about him, though. He’s a hard worker and does everything right. But it’s nice to see him score again.”

Multimedia:

Highlights: NHL.com posted a 4:42 highlight clip:

Post-game: The Sabres' website posted clips of Zach Bogosian, Sam Reinhart, Jack Eichel and coach Dan Bylsma's post-game remarks;

MSG Networks posted a short post-game commentator clip, a locker room clip and a clip of Bylsma's post-game comments;

The Free Press's George Sipple posted a clip of Tomas Tatar's comments;

The Red Wings' website posted a clip of Jeff Blashill's post-game remarks:

 

Photos: The Free Press posted a 16-image gallery;

The Detroit News posted a 10-image gallery;

MLive posted a 5-image gallery;

The Buffalo News posted a 20-image gallery;

ESPN posted a 2-image gallery;

And NHL.com, the Sabres website and the Red Wings' website posted 27, 27 and 25-image galleries, respectively.

Statistics:

Shots 35-23 Buffalo. Detroit was out-shot 11-7 in the 1st, 13-8 in the 2nd and 11-8 in the 3rd period.

Special teams: Detroit went 1-for-2 in 3:58 of PP time; Buffalo went 2-for-5 in 9:03.

Goaltending:  Petr Mrazek stopped 32 of 35 shots for Detroit; Chad Johnson stopped 19 of 23 for Buffalo.

The 3 stars were picked by a media panel, and they picked Brad Richards, Riley Sheahan and Jack Eichel.

The Red Wings' goals: Richards (4) from Sheahan (5) and Larkin (13) @ 12:59 of the 1st, 1-0 Detroit;

Sheahan (6) from Green (12) and Tatar (13) @ 7:59 of the 2nd, PPG, 2-0 Detroit;

Zetterberg (7) from Nyquist (11) and Smith (7) @ 2:27 of the 3rd, 3-2 Detroit;

Tatar (12) from Green (13) and Datsyuk (10) @ 17:10 of the 3rd, 4-3 Detroit.

Shot attempts 52-52. Detroit fired 23 shots on Johnson and 29 wide/blocked.

Individual stats:

 

Red Wings notebooks and also of Red Wings-related note: From the Windsor Star's Bob Duff:

It’s safe to say that Daniel Radcliffe is a bigger Detroit Red Wings fan than Tomas Tatar is a Harry Potter fan.

Radcliffe, the British actor who portrayed Harry Potter in the epic films, was a visitor to Joe Louis Arena and the Wings’ dressing room on New Year’s Eve, posing for a photo with Detroit left-winger Tatar, who sheepishly admitted he wasn’t a big fan of the films.

“It’s not like I was crazy about it but it was a great movie,” Tatar said. “Hands down he did a great job there and I think the whole movie is really famous. Everybody in the world I think knows who was Harry Potter.”

Radcliffe’s girlfriend, actor Erin Darke, is a Michigander who got her college degree from the University of Michigan’s Flint campus.

“I think his girlfriend is from somewhere in the Flint area so I guess he decided to spend New Year’s Eve in Detroit,” Tatar explained. “It’s nice that he’s a Red Wings fan, obviously. That’s a huge name to have behind us. I was watching his movies, too, so it was great to meet him.”

Update: The Toronto Sun's Steve Simmons tries to be subtle here. It doesn't work:

Interesting times for Ken Holland, the Red Wings GM who pushed 3-on-3 overtime through and drafted Dylan Larkin. Still not sure who misses the playoffs in the East. Ottawa and Tampa Bay should make it, which means who misses out.

Update #2: Here are annotated highlights from AWood40:

Update #3: Via RedWingsFeed, MLive's Brendan Savage posted a clip of Tomas Tatar and Henrik Zetterberg discussing the win:

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About The Malik Report

The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.