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DETROIT — The days at Joe Louis Arena are dwindling. The days of being a part of the Western Conference are gone.
In their season opener Wednesday night at the time-worn arena, the Detroit Red Wings met one of their new conference foes.
Change didn’t affect the Red Wings in a 2-1 win over Buffalo, one of their new Atlantic Division rivals.
It’s an unusual label, given Michigan’s lack of proximity to the Atlantic Ocean, but it’s a result of the NHL’s conference realignment. Yet the new look didn’t appear to affect the Red Wings.
Detroit took a two-goal lead over the Sabres in a span of 36 seconds in the first period and outshot the Sabres 16-5 in the third period to preserve the one-goal lead.
“We have a great goaltender, and there was times we had a few breakdowns and he was there,” said Cory Emmerton, who had an assist as the Red Wings took a 2-0 lead in the first. “That’s why he’s one of the best goalies in the league. He’s a stable presence back there.”
Emmerton referred to Jimmy Howard, who finished with 19 saves, even after his miscue during the third period allowed the Sabres to cut the Red Wings’ lead to 2-1 with less than eight minutes left in regulation.
Three minutes after Thomas Vanek’s slap shot with 9 minutes, 30 seconds left in the third hit goalpost to Howard’s glove side, Zemgus Girgensons capitalized on a miscue by Howard to cut Detroit’s lead to 2-1 at 12:36.
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“It was one of those things where it’s tough to hear, and I didn’t really hear anything,” Howard said. “I’m the one who makes the call, and I decided to go hard around. It was unfortunate it hit him and landed right on the guy’s stick in the slot. That’s my bad. It was a bad bounce, all the way around for us.”
The Red Wings maintained their defensive presence after the goal and allowed the Sabres just one shot in the final five minutes, and they held Buffalo scoreless on seven power plays.
“That was huge tonight,” Red Wings right wing Daniel Alfredsson said. “They say the goalie’s the best penalty killer, and he was outstanding.”
Midway through the first, the Sabres stifled Detroit’s first scoring chance, as Buffalo defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen intercepted Alfredsson’s pass to Stephen Weiss from behind the goal and batted it away from an otherwise open goal, with Sabres goalie Ryan Miller out of position.
Two minutes later, Mikael Samuelsson redirected Emmerton’s pass from the right circle past Miller, and 36 seconds later, Pavel Datsyuk’s backhand shot from the slot gave the Red Wings a 2-0 lead.
In a scoreless second, the Red Wings appeared to take a 3-0 lead, but officials waved off Todd Bertuzzi’s goal and ruled that Daniel Cleary interfered with Miller, which put the Sabres on their fifth power play.
But Vanek tripped Emmerton as he went in uncontested against Miller, and officials awarded Emmerton a penalty shot, which Miller stopped 54 seconds into the power play.
NEW FACES: Alfredsson and Weiss were two of the notable roster additions to the 2013-2014 iteration of the Red Wings; Alfredsson signed with the Red Wings after 17 seasons with the Ottawa Senators, while Weiss signed with Detroit after 11 seasons with the Florida Panthers.
One returning Red Wing had a new look.
Daniel Cleary intended to sign with Philadelphia last month but returned to Detroit on a one-year contract after contract negotiations stalled.
Cleary wore a new uniform number on opening night: 71. Cleary wore 11 last season, which Alfredsson now wears.
POWERLESS: The Sabres opened the season 0 for 7 on the power play, and they were unable to score on seven shots during that span.
With Henrik Zetterberg (high-sticking) and Jonathan Ericsson (closing hand on the puck) penalized four minutes into the first, the Red Wings killed off Buffalo’s early 5-on-3 power play, likely the Sabres’ best scoring chance in the period.
“I think everyone was a little bit nervous, even if you’re a big-time player,” Girgensons said. “You play in Detroit and there’s a lot of history in this building, and the PP didn’t click, and that’s what the team’s going to work on a lot in the next days. I just hope that can get better.”