CALGARY, Alberta — In his first start as an NHL goaltender, the Buffalo Sabres could find no fault with Nathan Lieuwen’s performance Tuesday night.
Alas, the 22-year-old was victimized like pretty much every other Buffalo netminder has been this year. No support, no margin for error.
The Calgary Flames scratched out a 3-1 win over the offensively inept Sabres at the Scotiabank Saddledome as Mike Cammalleri scored the tiebreaking goal with 10:44 to play.
It was the Sabres’ seventh straight loss, tying the franchise mark in regulation last set in 2003. They could break it with another 60-minute defeat Thursday in Edmonton.
Cammalleri tipped home a point shot from former Sabres defenseman Chris Butler, neatly gaining position in front of rookie Rasmus Ristolainen and getting the shaft of his stick on the puck to make it quickly change direction. It cleanly beat Lieuwen, who took over for the injured Jhonas Enroth during Sunday’s game against Montreal.
The crowd of 19,289 roared as ex-Sabre Paul Byron put home the clincher with 6:33 left, a short-handed goal on a breakaway, also from Butler.
“Being in that atmosphere and in that experience was incredible,” said Lieuwen, who played in the Saddledome as a junior for Kootenay of the Western Hockey League and said Sunday’s brief outing was beneficial. “It did help a lot just knowing that I can play at this speed and I can make saves and get comfortable and do my thing.
Lieuwen stopped 23 of 26 shots but the Sabres again did nothing offensively. They had a season-low 14 shots on goal, and Drew Stafford got their lone goal at 13:22 of the first period. Calgary’s Joe Colborne tied the game, 1-1, at 18:58 of the second.
Stafford, who has four goals in six games, and Tyler Ennis have scored all six Buffalo goals during the seven-game skid. No one else has a single one.
“He’s excellent. Good for him coming in a really tough situation,” Stafford said of Lieuwen. “Kind of thrown right into the fire. I thought he’s handled it really well. It’s just unfortunate. We need offense.”
“In order to score some goals, you can’t score if you don’t shoot,” said coach Ted Nolan. “We’re in positions. We get the puck to shoot and we pass it off for some reason. I’m not too sure why.”
Lieuwen was in the East Coast Hockey League last year, playing in Greenville, S.C., and got just four games in Rochester. He beat out Connor Knapp to be the Amerks’ backup this year and has bypassed much-heralded prospect Matt Hackett to become the Amerks’ starter.
He didn’t look out of place relieving Enroth on Sunday and he was equally sharp here Tuesday.
“I thought he played well,” Nolan said. “The second goal we kind of backed right into him and lost our positioning. The first 38 minutes we were really good and all of a sudden we turn it over again. The guys should know better.”
The first period was pretty much a snoozer, but Buffalo took advantage of some Calgary charity to emerge with a 1-0 lead on Stafford’s goal.
Flames defenseman Ben Hanowski was in control of the puck behind the net but his pass around the backboards was easily intercepted by Stafford, who simply curled out from behind the net and stuffed the puck home past surprised goalie Joni Ortio.
Neither team had a shot on goal over the first 4½ minutes and Lieuwen didn’t get his first until a routine save on Lance Bouma at 7:36.
The Sabres appeared to make it 2-0 about a minute after Stafford’s goal but Brian Flynn’s tally was wiped out because Marcus Foligno bumped Ortio going through the crease.
The Flames started to get the better of the play as the second period moved on and Lieuwen made a nice glove save on Cammalleri. Calgary finally broke through on Colborne’s goal, which ended Lieuwen’s shutout streak after the first 60 minutes, 43 seconds of his career.
Ville Leino was a tad late getting to the point and T.J. Brodie got his shot through, but it was wide and careened back in front off the boards. Neither Mike Weber nor Torey Mitchell could tie up Colborne.
Lieuwen’s NHL debut Sunday made him the 42nd player to appear for the Sabres this season. That’s one shy of the franchise record of 43 set in 1991-92. Hackett, Lieuwen’s fellow Rochester goaltender, arrived on emergency recall to serve as backup. Michal Neuvirth skated on his own following the team’s pregame skate and Nolan said Neuvirth could start Thursday.