by Brian Wheeler
In August, the Calgary Flames traded defensemen Toni Lydman to the Buffalo Sabres for a third-round pick in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, sighting a lack of space on their blueline as a catalyst for the transaction.
On Saturday night, Calgary's defensive corps showed the depth and skill which made Lydman expendable, holding Buffalo to just three shots in the opening period and a single goal during the game en route to a 4-1 victory.
"They are a great defensive team and I consider them the best defensively in the Western Conference," said Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff. "They are strong down low, passionate in their play and limit their opposition's opportunities.
"We knew it was going to be a low scoring game and we weren't up to the task on special teams. Their special teams were a little bit better than ours."
Buffalo's power play was held scoreless for just the ninth time this season, while the penalty kill allowed two power play goals for the first time since December 16.
Buffalo surged to life late in the game, outshooting Calgary 14-11 in the third, but couldn't overcome a two goal deficit in the team's second loss in its three game Western Conference road trip.
"We played maybe 20 minutes in the whole game," said Sabres goaltender Martin Biron. "That didn't really work for us."
"That was way too little too late for us," said Ruff of the third period.
Making his first start in four games, Biron allowed three goals on 36 shots by the Flames. Biron has been used sparingly in the last two weeks, making just four starts in Buffalo's last 14 games. In that span, the netminder has recorded a record of 0-2-2 with two shootout loses.
"Everybody is a little frustrated," said Biron. "We have a big game coming up in New York and we have to just refocus and regroup."
Darren McCarty opened the scoring for Calgary at 8:33 in the first after collecting Dion Phaneuf's shot from the left point, spinning and sliding a shot just inside the left post.
"We can't afford to go down 1-0 in the first and have not even a handful of shots in the period," said Biron.
More than 14 minutes into the contest, Buffalo's first shot on goal evened the score 1-1. Creating a turnover in the neutral zone, Maxim Afinogenov raced past Calgary defensemen Rhett Warrener and Phaneuf, faked to the forehand and beat Flames netminder Mikka Kiprusoff with a backhand.
On a controversial play, Robyn Regehr
kicked a puck past Biron with a two-man Calgary advantage for his fourth goal of the season and a 2-1 Calgary lead. Despite being bombarded by complaints from Sabres players and coaches, the officials allowed the score without reviewing the play.
"It was a distinct kicking motion and was obviously kicked in," said Ruff. "I don't know how a video judge can decide that in one second. We've had reviews that lasted five minutes. That took two seconds and the guy kicked it in.
"I've been in games were the officials contacted the league and asked their advice, or the league calls. I just don't understand how a video judge here can make that type of call when it's that distinct."
Following the game, the NHL league office apologized for the mistake, sighting a breakdown in communication as the cause of the error.
Kristian Huselius scored Calgary's second power-play goal of the contest 12 minutes into the second to expand the Flames lead to a pair of goals. Stationed at the right post, Huselius redirects Phaneuf's crossing pass past Biron after the feed deflected off the netminder's left pad.
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0-1 (8:33): Darren McCarty scoops Dion Phaneuf's shot from the left point just inside the left post to give Calgary the early lead. The goal is McCarty's fourth of the season. Phaneuf and Marcus Nilson record the assists.
1-1 (14:08): On Buffalo's first shot 5:22 into the game, Maxim Afinogenov collects a turnover by Rhett Warrener in the neutral zone and breaks on the one-on-one with Mikka Kiprusoff. Afinogenov's fake to his forehand got Kiprusoff to slide to the far post, leaving the shortside open for the backhander. The goal is Afinogenov's 12th of the season. Derek Roy
and Jay McKee record the assist. Period 2
1-2 (0:56): With two Sabres in the penalty box, Daymond Langkow's pass through the crease was deflected by Martin Biron to the far post where it was kicked into the net by Robyn Regehr
. The goal is Regehr's fourth of the season. Langkow and Tony Amonte get the helpers.
1-3 (12:01): Another power-play goal gives Calgary a two-goal lead. After a flurry of activity in front of the net, Huselius' wristshot from the left wing sneaks under an outstretched Biron for his 12th goal of the season. Phaneuf and Chuck Kobasew record the assists.
1-4 (18:58): Shawn Donovan spins and fires inside the Calgary zone for an empty net goal with a minute remaining in regulation. The goal is Donovan's fifth of the season. Amonte and Warrener record the assists.
Quotes courtesy of WGR 550-AM, the official radio partner of the Buffalo Sabres.