Lehner, Pouliot lead Sabres to 1-0 shutout over Wings
With his first shutout since February and a bucket full of terrific saves, Robin Lehner earned first-star honors for the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night.
But if you said Benoit Pouliot had the most profound impact in the 1-0 victory over the Detroit Red Wings, you might very well be right.
Beyond scoring the only goal, the veteran left winger was dominant with the body in all three zones and made several key plays in the third period when the Sabres were doing their best to play a shut-down style.
That’s not necessarily easy for them to do when, well, how many times have they had a lead in the third period in the previous nine games? Try twice, and just once since the season opener.
“It means we followed the game plan,” Lehner said after his 32-save shutout. “We were flipping it out, putting it in and making them go 200 feet.”
And quite often Pouliot was interrupting the Wings’ attempt to start that 200-foot attack before it even began.
Like with 5:20 to play, when Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall swung behind his own net and tried to make an outlet pass up the right wing. Pouliot sped in off left wing in pursuit and blocked the pass behind the net.
Just one of the many restarts the Sabres forced, especially the trio of Pouliot, Ryan O’Reilly and Jason Pominville.
“I thought that line in general was really solid and Ben provided some physicality,” said Sabres coach Phil Housley, whose club improved to 3-5-2. “I think they were strong on the forecheck, they provided some really good wall play in our zone. They were really pressuring Detroit, forcing them to regroup.”
In other words, all the things you want from a line when you’re protecting a one-goal lead.
“We played smart,” Pouliot said.
He was especially physical, perhaps more physical than he has been for Buffalo.
“They’ve got some mobile players,” Pouliot said. “It’s tough to play against those guys, they’re very skilled, very fast. If you can keep the speed away from them, play the body, make them hesitate a little more, we’ll have success.”
Oh, and then there was his goal at 9:45 of the second period, his second of the season. Pouliot’s first came Saturday night in Boston, when the Sabres overcame a 4-1 deficit to win 5-4 in overtime. He hadn’t scored in successive games since March 14-16 with the Edmonton Oilers.
He came charging into the zone and caused a panic pass by Wings defenseman Xavier Ouellet, which Taylor Fedun held in at the right point. A moment later, Wings goalie Jimmy Howard stopped a shot by Victor Antipin but Pouliot snared the rebound to the left of the net, swung behind and tried the wrap-around while still behind the net.
Ouellet attempted to block it, but the puck instead caromed off the stick blade and into the net.
The score never changed over the final 30 minutes and 15 seconds.
“They’ve now found a way to win a tight game, which is really important,” Housley said. “I think that’s really going to help their confidence being in that situation again.”
Like maybe on Wednesday night? The Sabres, winners of two straight, play in Columbus against the Blue Jackets, who have lost two straight.