CALGARY – Nathan Lieuwen got an appetizer of National Hockey League action on Sunday when he stepped in to relieve an injured Jhonas Enroth. Tonight he’ll be enjoying a three-course meal.
The 22-year-old Lieuwen will make his first NHL start tonight when Buffalo opens up a five-game road trip against the Calgary Flames at the Scotiabank Saddledome. With Michal Neuvirth still hobbled by a lower body injury, Matt Hackett will serve as Lieuwen’s backup after being recalled from Rochester on Monday.
Lieuwen stopped all 10 shots sent his way on Sunday in his NHL debut when he was called in to play 21:45 against Montreal, after being summoned earlier that morning on an emergency recall. The 6-foot-5 Lieuwen has a 17-11-2 record in 32 games for the Amerks this season, registering a .922 save% and 2.34 GAA.
A native of Abbotsford, BC, Lieuwen will be quite familiar with his Saddledome surroundings tonight. Lieuwen played his junior hockey with the WHL’s Kootenay Ice, and estimated that he played at least 30 games here over the course of his four-year junior career.
Nolan chatted with the always-smiling Lieuwen at the conclusion of today’s morning skate, simply reassuring the youngster that tonight’s game is just another step in his professional journey.
“I just talked to (Nathan) about how progression begins, and how it ends. He comes from a real good junior background, where you come in as a 17-year-old, and all of a sudden you’re leading them as a 19-year-old,” said Nolan. “It’s the same thing at this level. You go down to the American Hockey League, and then you come up to this level. It’s all part of the progression, and it’s just another hockey game.”
Neuvirth is on the road trip, but only had a brief stint on the ice today in his brand new Sabres goalie pads. Nolan was hesitant to say whether Neuvirth will be back for Thursday’s game in Edmonton.
“He feels a lot better today, and even hopped on the ice with us for a little while. But we’ll continue to monitor it for another 24 hours.”
Torrey Mitchell will return to the Buffalo lineup tonight after missing the last six games with a lower-body injury sustained on March 6 in Tampa, his first game with the team after being acquired from Minnesota at the trade deadline. With Mitchell coming back, Zenon Konopka will be Buffalo’s only healthy scratch.
Tyler Myers remains in Buffalo, and it’s uncertain whether he’ll be rejoining the team at any point over the next nine days.
Tonight’s game is the 99th all-time meeting between the Sabres and Flames. Buffalo is 48-34-16 against the Flames all-time, including an 18-20-11 mark in Calgary. Buffalo’s last win in Calgary was on October 18, 2003.
TONIGHT’S PROJECTED LINES
Cory Conacher – Tyler Ennis – Drew Stafford
Marcus Foligno – Brian Flynn – Cody Hodgson
Torrey Mitchell – Ville Leino – Matt D’Agostini
Nicolas Deslauriers – Matt Ellis – John Scott
Christian Ehrhoff – Rasmus Ristolainen
Jamie McBain – Mike Weber
Chad Ruhwedel – Henrik Tallinder
Zenon Konopka (healthy scratch)