DETROIT – Cory Emmerton went from not making the Detroit Red Wings’ final roster to filling up the stat sheet Wednesday night at Joe Louis Arena.
Emmerton had an assist, drew a penalty and was stopped on a penalty shot as the Wings skated past their new Atlantic Division rivals in the Eastern Conference, the Buffalo Sabres, 2-1.
Emmerton was waived by the Wings on Sunday and cleared 24 hours later. He was going to be assigned to Grand Rapids, but after the team decided to place Patrick Eaves on long-term injured reserve, Eaves found himself back in the fold centering the fourth line.
“Every day is a new opportunity,” Emmerton said. “It’s kind of how you choose to go about your business. I think it’s tough to say that it’s not difficult sometimes after that happens. You have to be mentally strong and if you’re not you’re not going to last. It’s a tryout every day for me. That’s what I’m going to do, wake up and try and do the same things.”
Mikael Samuelsson and Pavel Datsyuk got Detroit’s goals, while Jimmy Howard made 19 saves for Detroit.
Zemgus Girgensons had the lone tally for Buffalo and Ryan Miller stopped 32 shots.
Emmerton also helped kill off all seven of the Sabres’ man advantages.
“Last year was huge for me, our penalty kill was kind of suspect there at the beginning of the season, struggled, made a few changes and I found myself with an opportunity to play on it,” Emmerton said. “When you get an opportunity you have to make the most of it and I ended up playing the rest of the year on it and being a big part of it. I just wanted to carry that over to this year and do what I can to help on the penalty kill.
Buffalo, which finished 12th in the Eastern Conference last season, had a pair of 5-on-3 power plays, one in each of the first two periods, last all of two minutes and 22 seconds and could only muster two shots on goal.
“We know that he can play on pretty much any line here,” Jonathan Ericsson said. “It’s just unfortunate for him that we have so many good forwards right now. He kind of has the short straw, but luckily for us no one picked him up and he’s got the chance to prove himself again.
“I know the organization is really happy with him and how he’s been playing, so it was great to see him have a great game,” Ericsson added. “I’m a big fan of Cory’s and I just want to see him succeed.”
The Wings got off to a quick start with a pair of goals in the opening period just 36 second apart.
Samuelsson got Detroit’s first goal of the season redirecting in a pass from Emmerton.
“Everybody’s got to find a way to contribute on the hockey club,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “It was a big goal for our team.”
Emmerton gained entry into the Sabres’ zone with speed, taking the puck to the corner and just over the faceoff dot before twirling a backhand pass into the slot where Samuelsson was to redirect over Miller’s left shoulder.
“I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a little extra fire there, but that’s how you need to play every night,” Emmerton said. “Tonight, I thought our line did a real good job and obviously Sammy made an unbelievable tip there.
“As a fourth line your job is to be hard on teams, have the puck more than them and make it hard for them and when you score goals that just helps the team,” Emmerton added. “I think we did a real good job tonight.”
The goal was Samuelsson’s first in the regular season since April 7, 2012 when he was a member of the Florida Panthers.
Then it was Datsyuk’s time to shine, picking off an outlet pass just inside Buffalo’s zone, weaving his way to the slot before unleashing his patented laser of a backhand over Miller’s left shoulder.
Detroit look as if it had built its lead to three with one second left on a power play, but the referee waived off Todd Bertuzzi’s goal ruling the Daniel Cleary had interfered with Miller.
Less than a minute later, Emmerton was awarded a penalty shot, while the Wings were on the penalty kill, after being tripped by Thomas Vanek. Emmerton tried going five-hole on Miller and was stopped.
“You’re not really out there trying to score goals when you’re on the penalty kill you’re trying to stop them,” Emmerton said. “There was an opportunity on that half breakaway there, I want to kind of build off that.”
The Wings’ power play wasn’t as hot, going 0-for-3.
“I thought our penalty kill was good,” Babcock said. “Actually I thought our power play was real dangerous, too. We didn’t score on it but I thought it was really dangerous.”
Four minutes into the game the Sabres went on a 5-on-3 power play with Henrik Zetterberg (high sticking) and Jonathan Ericsson (closing hand over the puck) in the box. But two blocks from Joakim Andersson and two nice saves from Howard they were able to kill both them off.
Buffalo got his second 5-on-3 man advantage of the game with two minutes to play in the second period when Emmerton was sent off for delay of game. The Sabres didn’t manage a shot on goal in the 51 seconds up two men and didn’t generate anything up one man.
The Sabres got their goal in the third period on a miscue by Howard, who got caught playing the puck from behind his net and shooting it off a Brian Flynn hugging the end boards. The puck shot right into the slot where Girgensons backhanded one past the Wings netminder before he could re-establish position.