BUFFALO, N.Y. -- After missing a 14-game stretch in October with a groin injury, Detroit Red Wings center Darren Helm is the first to admit he needed a little time to get back to full speed.
Now that he's found his stride, it's possible a healthy dose of the speedy but oft-injured center could be just what the Red Wings needed to dig out of a nasty skid.
Helm scored for the fourth time in five games, left winger Johan Franzen tallied the go-ahead goal with less than nine minutes to go, and backup goalie Jonas Gustavsson improved to 5-0-1 as the Red Wings downed the Buffalo Sabres 3-1 at First Niagara Center on Sunday.
Helm had just 33 goals in 255 career games before his recent hot streak. With the Wings trailing after one period, he wheeled a shot past Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller just 30 seconds into the second period.
"I knew there was someone on my back, I just tried to get to the middle and get the shot off. I kind of surprised myself," Helm said of his goal. "It's nice to see the puck go in, I've just got to continue to stick to the basics. It seems like the puck's been finding me."
The Wings got a welcome surprise when forward Daniel Alfredsson was back in the lineup. He had missed five games with a groin injury, but returned in time to face the team he has had his greatest offensive success against (87 points in 91 games). Alfredsson had the primary assist on Helm's tally and added an empty net goal with 48.2 seconds remaining.
Franzen netted what proved to be the winner with a power-play goal at 11:43 of the third when his shot from the left of Miller caromed into the net. Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwell earned the assists on Franzen's sixth goal of the year and his fourth in six games.
The Sabres got on the board first when Cody Hodgson wrapped the puck around Gustavsson, tucking it past the netminder at 7:47 of the first period. It was Hodgson's eighth goal of the season, and it put the Sabres in an unfamiliar place, marking just the second time all season they took the lead into the first intermission.
With an 0-2-4 record in his last half-dozen starts, Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard got the evening off and Gustavsson was in net for the Wings, who came in with just one win in their last nine games. Gustavsson finished with 21 saves.
Does that mean Gustavsson is making a push for the starting job? Not according to Detroit coach Mike Babcock.
"I think he's done a real good job," Babcock said of the backup. "But let's be honest, (Howard) is one of the best goalies in the world. Has it gone the way he's wanted for him? He's probably pressing a little bit. As Howie goes, we go. Let's not kid ourselves. He's a big time leader on our team with his work ethic and his commitment to doing things right. We need him going."
For the Sabres, Miller again did the heavy lifting, stopping 31 shots. Despite the fact that Buffalo has the lowest point total in the NHL, Miller is second among all netminders in saves.
The Sabres were outshot again at home, a trend that's bothering captain and center Steve Ott.
"The light bulbs have to be turned on to start these games. If you're not ready to play the Detroit Red Wings, there's something wrong with you," Ott said. "Not only will they burn you with your talent and everything else, but they're a world-class hockey team with some great character players."
Buffalo (5-19-1) has two days before welcoming the Montreal Canadiens to town on Wednesday, while Detroit (11-7-7) will return home to face the Boston Bruins on Wednesday.
NOTES: After taking an elbow to the head during Saturday's loss to the Senators in Ottawa, Detroit C Pavel Datsyuk did not make the trip to Buffalo. Team officials were not ready to say he suffered a concussion, but they were following steps as if he did. He will be evaluated Tuesday. The league decided Sunday that D Jared Cowen, who hit Datsyuk, would not be disciplined. There was no penalty on the play. ... Detroit RW Todd Bertuzzi missed his second straight game with an upper-body injury. ... Buffalo C Cody McCormick was placed on injured reserve after suffering an upper-body injury against the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday. He is expected to miss about a week. ... The Sabres recalled D Alexander Sulzer from AHL Rochester, and he was paired with D Christian Ehrhoff. It marked the beginning of Sulzer's second stint with Buffalo this year. ... After sitting Thursday as a healthy scratch, the first time he missed a game this year, Sabres D Mark Pysyk returned to the lineup.