BUFFALO, N.Y. -- With pinpoint passing and precision, the Detroit Red Wings displayed why they are one of the hottest teams in the NHL.
Detroit scored three times in the first period, when the Red Wings peppered goalie Jhonas Enroth with 18 shots, and went on to win for the 11th time in 13 games. The only losses came on a West Coast swing that helped them change their ways.
"We made a decision when we went out West not to be a mentally soft team," Howard said. "We want to be mentally tough. This game is full of mistakes, so it's how you respond after making them. We've gotten a lot mentally tougher since then."
The Red Wings were particularly strong in the second period when they killed three straight penalties and maintained a 3-0 lead.
"They had some opportunities to get back into the game in the second and get a goal," Detroit captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. "But Jimmy really stepped up for us."
Jakub Kindl, Johan Franzen, and Valtteri Filppula scored the first-period goals for Detroit (16-7-1), which last won seven in a row in March 2010. Pavel Datsyuk pushed the lead to 4-1 by scoring into an empty net with 1:17 left.
"We feel we have a good team when we play with tempo and we play right," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "We have a lot of good players with a lot of experience, and have a good calmness about us. We don't get too high or too low, we just keep on playing. We think we have a chance to be a good team, but only time will tell."
Howard, making his 17th straight start, was steady throughout. In the second period he robbed Jason Pominville, who was left alone in the slot. He then stopped Nathan Gerbe on a breakaway in the third.
Jochen Hecht spoiled Howard's shutout bid with 6:13 remaining.
"The confidence in the room right now is great," Howard said. "And in hockey, confidence is everything."
Enroth, making his ninth straight start in place of No. 1 goalie Ryan Miller, made 32 saves for the Sabres (13-11-1), who have lost three of four.
Miller was in uniform for the first time since suffering a concussion nearly three weeks earlier, and served as Enroth's backup. Miller might start Saturday at Nashville against the Predators.
"That first period showed how a top team plays in the NHL," Sabres defenseman Robyn Regehr said. "We have to be a lot sharper right off the bat. We have to work much harder and be harder on the pucks. Once (Detroit) gets the puck, they make very disciplined decisions."
After a four-game winning streak at the beginning of November, the Sabres are on a 3-6-1 slide.
"We've got to win a game, that's the bottom line," Buffalo forward Thomas Vanek said. "We've got to make a run here."
Hecht made it 3-1 after converting a 2-on-1 break with Pominville with a shot from the left circle.
Kindl staked Detroit to a 1-0 lead 8:50 into the game when his wrist shot from the left point got past a partially screened Enroth.
Franzen made it 2-0 with a power-play goal with 6:22 left in the first, and Filppula pushed the lead to three goals 63 seconds later.
Red Wings RW Chris Conner played in his first NHL game since April after being recalled Wednesday from Grand Rapids of the AHL. ... Detroit will play 10 of its 15 December games on the road. ... Buffalo D Joe Finley made his NHL debut and became the ninth rookie to play for the Sabres this season. Philadelphia leads the league with 10. ... Filppula has five goals during his current five-game point streak. ... The Sabres also got LW Tyler Ennis and RW Patrick Kaleta back in the lineup following injuries, but they are still without five regulars. Kaleta, though, left in the second period when he aggravated an undisclosed lower body injury. ... Gerbe left with 7½ minutes remaining after he was clipped in the face by a skate after a faceoff.