You think the Buffalo Sabres’ season – both in the standings and the injury list – can’t get any worse. Then Sunday happens.
The Sabres lost, 2-0, to the Montreal Canadiens in First Niagara Center in the latest mind-numbing affair they’ve produced on the road to last overall in the NHL. The Sabres have lost six straight in regulation for the first time since December 2003 – and have scored just five goals in those games.
And now, all of a sudden, they have two banged-up goaltenders and no idea how healthy either can be with the longest road trip of the season looming.
Michal Neuvirth missed the game with a lower-body injury apparently suffered during his 51-save outing Thursday in Carolina and aggravated sometime Saturday on Long Island. And starter Jhonas Enroth got knocked from the crease with 3:51 left in the second period Sunday with an apparent right leg injury.
That left emergency call-up Nathan Lieuwen to finish things – and potentially left the 22-year-old temporarily atop the franchise’s depth chart in the net.
Enroth was injured on a drive to the net by Montreal winger Brendan Gallagher, who cut hard from Enroth’s right and was bumped into the goalie by Sabres defenseman Jamie McBain.
Enroth stayed down for a moment, got up and tried to flex his legs under the watchful eye of trainer Tim Macre. But it was clear Enroth was in discomfort, and he strode off the ice putting no weight on the leg and putting his reign as No. 1 in the wake of the Ryan Miller trade in major doubt.
“It doesn’t look like it’s going to be short-term,” said a disappointed coach Ted Nolan, who said Enroth will be examined again today for a definitive diagnosis.
Enroth has a 2.46 goals-against average and .932 save percentage in seven games since the Miller trade.
“It’s a bummer for sure,” said defenseman Henrik Tallinder, Enroth’s teammate with Sweden in both the world championships and Olympics. “The games he’s played after Ryan’s departure have been amazing for him. Even if he’s hurt now, he’s still proven a lot during those games.”
There wasn’t much McBain could do on the play, lest he let Gallagher walk in alone.
“I put a stick and a body on him and it’s unfortunate when plays like that happen,” McBain said. “You’re kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place. You can’t just let him go. ... It’s an unfortunate thing that happened and hopefully Jony is OK. You never want to see it happen to anyone and he’s been playing absolutely unbelievable for us.”
The 6-foot-6 Lieuwen, a sixth-round draft pick in 2011, has been a huge surprise in Rochester this year as he has supplanted Matt Hackett as the Amerks’ No. 1 in the net by going 17-11-2, 2.34, .922. He played Friday and Saturday for the Amerks and got the call to come to Buffalo on Sunday morning.
“I was shocked. I was nervous. I was everything,” Lieuwen said. “I couldn’t stop smiling all morning. To get here and end up playing, it’s a wild ride.”
Lieuwen got a quick indoctrination into life in Sabreland, as he had to make four saves in the first 67 seconds of his NHL career. He stopped all 10 shots he faced, including a sizzler from the slot in the third period from ex-Sabre Thomas Vanek.
“It’s was almost disbelief. It felt like a dream,” Lieuwen said. “I had to pinch myself a little bit. But once I got in there, I felt pretty good.”
Nolan said there’s a good chance Hackett may need to join the team for practice today and that both Rochester goalies will be on today’s charter to Calgary.
The Canadiens scored twice in the first period on goals by Dale Weise and Gallagher and that was that. Nolan thought Weise’s goal was a kick that should not have counted, and the Gallagher goal actually went in off Chad Ruhwedel.
Third-string goalie Dustin Tokarski made 29 saves for his first career shutout. Vanek had a game-high six shots on goal in the game.
The Habs hit town off Saturday’s stunning 5-4 win over Ottawa in the Bell Centre. Montreal scored three goals in the final 3:22 of regulation – with David Desharnais tying the game with three-tenths of a second left – and won it on Francis Bouillon’s goal early in OT.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it was the first time in NHL history that a team was down by three goals inside the final five minutes and came back to win a game. The feat has been accomplished in the playoffs a couple of times but never in the regular season.
Nolan said Tyler Myers (arm) remains day to day, although the team is hopeful he’ll go on the Western swing. Torey Mitchell skated well on his own and Nolan said he could play Tuesday in Calgary.
The Sabres will practice at Bud Bakewell Rink in Riverside today before flying West.