The Sabres opened the scoring on Girgensons' goal 1:31 into the second period. Cody Hodgson set it up from the right boards, where he slipped a pass into the slot and the puck banked in off Girgensons, who was battling with Red Wings defenseman Danny DeKeyser.
Smith got that one back 11 minutes later on a transition rush, and after the Sabres were caught making a line change.
Johan Franzen led the rush up the right wing and fed a cross-ice pass to Smith, who snapped it into a wide-open side from the left circle. Sabres goalie Hackett was caught overplaying Franzen.
The Sabres squandered a chance to regain the lead later in the second period, when DeKeyser was penalized for holding and Justin Abdelkader followed him to the box 9 seconds later for delay of game.
Howard made a solid pair of stops to keep the score even. After turning aside Cody Hodgson's hard shot from the left circle, Howard kicked out his right pad to foil Rasmus Ristolainen's attempt to convert the rebound.
Howard also had to be sharp 2:09 into the third period, when he kicked out his right pad to get a piece of Johan Larsson's shot on a short-handed breakaway opportunity.
NOTES: The Sabres called up G Andrey Makarov from AHL Rochester to serve as the backup. He became the eighth goalie to dress for at least one game this season, including Ryan Vinz, a Sabres HarborCenter employee who backed up Jhonas Enroth the day Ryan Miller was traded to St. Louis. ... Red Wings RW Daniel Alfredsson's assist on Smith's goal upped career total to 712, tying him with Jean Beliveau and Scott Stevens for 48th on NHL list. ... Sabres RW Chris Stewart returned after missing 16 games with a lower body injury, while D Christian Ehrhoff — nicknamed "Ear-Hoff" by his teammates — played two days after requiring numerous stitches to close a gash in his right ear, which was struck by a puck. ... The Red Wings improved to 3-6 in their past nine road games and upped their season total to 20-15-4. It marks the sixth time since 2005-06 Detroit has won 20 or more away from home.