DETROIT -- The Red Wings showed off their depth and their penalty killers on opening night, starting a long journey with one sure-footed step.
Two quick goals highlighted the offense while a steady conga line to the penalty box cast favorable light on defense as the Wings collected a 2-1 victory Wednesday night at Joe Louis Arena against the Buffalo Sabres.
Fourth-liner Mikael Samuelsson and first-liner Pavel Datsyuk scored first-period goals 36 seconds apart, Samuelsson on a tip and Datsyuk on a backhand from the slot. Youngster Joakim Andersson and veteran Niklas Kronwall were among the anchors who thwarted the Sabres through nearly 12 minutes of power play time over the first two periods.
"Everyone here was focused, excited and ready to go," Jimmy Howard said after facing just 20 shots. "There are a lot of areas we can work on, but it's nice to get your first game under your belt and first win as well."
The Sabres, now a division mate after the Wings' move to the Eastern Conference, didn't offer much in the way of competition. Howard's only mishap came late in the third period, when a fumbled attempt to play the puck saw it go off Brian Flynn and straight to Zemgus Girgensons, who cut the lead in half.
"We've got to step on the gas there and finish off the game," Kronwall said. "We definitely didn't help ourselves a few times, but overall we didn't give them too many chances. Two points are all that really matters at the end of the day."
The biggest problem for the Wings was their penchant for the penalty box. By the time they grabbed that two-goal lead, they already could feel encouraged as their penalty killers came through after Henrik Zetterberg and Jonathan Ericsson were sent off 29 seconds apart. Ericsson is a regular penalty killer and Zetterberg a go-to guy when down two skaters, but Kronwall, Andersson and Kyle Quincey represented well, helping keep the pressure off Howard.
Special teams have been under extra focus since training camp, as the Wings seek to improve on last year's squads. An early look at the power play wasn't quite as impressive, as both groups failed to test Ryan Miller with a shot.
The penalty kill delivered again early in the second period when Zetterberg went off for another infraction, with Howard coming down strong on a puck as two Sabres tried to poke it in from the crease. The Wings thought they had a power play goal near the end of the stretch, but Todd Bertuzzi's would-be first of the season was waved off because of goaltender interference by Daniel Cleary, though Miller was outside his crease.
"I actually thought our power play was real dangerous," coach Mike Babcock said. "We didn't score on it, but it was dangerous."
Cory Emmerton got a penalty shot after being hauled down on a breakaway during that penalty kill, but a direct-on shot was no match for Miller's prowess.
There wasn't much opportunity for offense after that: Samuelsson went to the penalty box late in the second period, and Emmerton followed after shooting the puck over the glass. That left the Wings facing a 51-second stretch down by two skaters. Not a problem: Andersson, Kronwall and Ericsson were so tight the puck didn't get near the net.
"They did a great job on both 5-on-3s," Howard said. "They didn't give them much. The way guys were blocking shots. It's fun to see when you're a goalie."
The Wings were eager for this game, eager to get started after spending a month engaged by scrimmages and exhibition friendlies. It was a small step, but a successful one.
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