CALGARY – For the first 40 minutes, it looked like Nathan Lieuwen’s first National Hockey League start was going to have a storybook ending. Instead, the nightmare continued as Buffalo’s season-high losing streak was extended to seven games.
Mike Cammalleri scored the game winner in the third period, and former Sabre Paul Byron cemented it with some shorthanded insurance, as Calgary defeated Buffalo 3-1 at the Scotiabank Saddledome on Tuesday. Drew Stafford scored the only goal for Buffalo, as they managed just a season-low 14 shots on Calgary netminder Joni Ortio.
Lieuwen faced 26 shots, but was hardly peppered early. The Flames didn’t record their first shot until 7:45 of the opening period when Lance Bouma drifted a shot from the point that the 22-year-old kicked away easily. Buffalo silenced the crowd early in what appeared to be the perfect road game.
It’s been a whirlwind for Lieuwen since his emergency recall from Rochester on Sunday morning, but the easy-going rookie said he didn't really battle any nervousness over the past few days.
“Not really. Maybe in the morning, or in the afternoon today a bit. But when I got here it just felt like another game and I wanted to go out there and do my thing.”
Lieuwen joined the Sabres on Sunday after playing in consecutive nights with the Amerks. Playing in a third straight game wasn’t expected, but Lieuwen believes it helped him out tonight.
“It did help a lot, just knowing I can play at this speed and I can make saves. It helped me get comfortable and do my thing.”
Stafford opened the scoring at 13:22 of the first with his 14th of the season, and fourth in the last six games, burying a wraparound on Ortio after Ben Hanowski turned the puck over behind the Calgary net. The goal snapped a scoreless drought of 79:04, dating back to Tyler Ennis’ third period goal on Saturday in Long Island.
The goal highlighted Buffalo’s ongoing offensive deficiencies. The Sabres have scored just six goals during the seven-game losing skid, with only Stafford (4) and Tyler Ennis (2) able to find the back of the net for Buffalo since the streak started on March 7 at Florida.
Interim coach Ted Nolan, who called the loss “disheartening,” knows the Sabres are going to have a very difficult time winning games when they manage just 14 shots on goal.
“It’s pretty tough when you have a shot in the slot and you pass it to the far side corner for a different shot. I don’t know. In order to score some goals, you can’t score if you don’t shoot,” said a visibly frustrated Nolan following the game. “We’re in positions when we get the puck to shoot, and we pass it off for some reason. And I’m not too sure why.”
Joe Colborne became the answer to a trivia question in the Lieuwen household when he scored on a goalmouth scramble to even things up with just 62 seconds left in the second period. The goal was the first allowed by Lieuwen after playing 60:43 of scoreless hockey, dating back to his 21:45 of relief work on Sunday against Montreal.
Cammalleri put Calgary ahead for good midway through the third with his 20th of the season, fighting off a check from Rasmus Ristolainen in front to tip home a Chris Butler point shot after the offensive zone faceoff win by Mikael Backlund over Matt Ellis.
The Flames stuck a fork in the Sabres when Byron scored a shorthanded goal at 13:27 of the third, picking up a loose puck just inside the Calgary bluleine and outraced Cody Hodgson to the net. It was Byron’s fifth of the season and second against Buffalo.
Buffalo will look to avoid tying the franchise record eight-game losing streak when they next see action at Rexall Place in Edmonton on Thursday (9:30 p.m. EDT).