VANCOUVER – The Buffalo Sabres were able to score early on Sunday, however it was the Vancouver Canucks that would score often.
Former Sabre Zack Kassian had a career-high four points, as the Canucks scored four unanswered goals to hand the Sabres a 4-2 loss at Rogers Arena. Buffalo is now 1-2 on their season-long five game road trip that still has stops remaining in Montreal and Nashville.
Just like their last trip to Vancouver on March 3, 2012, Buffalo jumped on the Canucks early with a pair of quick goals.
Tyler Ennis started things off with his team-leading 19th of the season at 1:11, unleashing a major-league snipe over Eddie Lack’s left shoulder after being sent in with no-look back pass from Marcus Foligno.
“I kind of saw him leaning a little bit, and a short side shot is always tough to stop,” said Ennis. “The goalie usually thinks you’re gonna go far side. I made a good shot but it wasn’t enough.”
The goal gives Ennis 15 points in his last 18 games, and 23 in the last 28. Ennis started the season by collecting just six points in the first 20 games, but he now leads the Sabres with 38 points, two more than Cody Hodgson.
Buffalo went up 2-0 just 2:18 later as Jamie McBain got some help from Canucks defenseman Ryan Stanton to score his fourth goal of the year, and first since January 9. McBain took a cross-ice pass from Brian Flynn, and was attempting to feed the puck to Mike Weber in the slot when it changed direction off Stanton’s leg, leaving Lack helpless to watch the puck slide by him.
Nathan Lieuwen was making his second career start for Buffalo, and he was doing it in front of friends and family from his hometown of nearby Abbotsford, BC. The 22-year-old was sharp early, turning away all 10 shots sent his way through the first 10 minutes, including a big-time pad save on a point-blank slapshot from Ryan Kesler.
“For me, it’s a dream come true to play here. I’ve got tons of family here,” Lieuwen said. “I was very nervous the first half of the game. After that I felt like I settled in, and felt nice and comfortable.”
Vancouver brought things even with a pair of quick first period goals of their own, thanks to some unlikely playmaking from Kassian, who entered the night with only eight assists in 63 games this season.
Brad Richardson was the first recipient of a Kassian pass in the slot, and he appeared to catch Lieuwen off-guard with a quick top-shelf wrister. Just over two minutes later, Kassian fed Shawn Matthias for a one-timer through traffic that Lieuwen had no chance on.
“We did what we normally do, and that’s get ourselves in trouble by missing assignments and leaving the front of the net,” explained interim head coach Ted Nolan. “On two occasions our defensemen left the front of the net wide open and they capitalized on it.”
The Canucks had a 27-10 lead in shots after two periods, but it was their most harmless one that gave them the lead for good. Yannick Weber carried the puck over the Buffalo blueline and flipped a wrist shot from the top of the circle that Lieuwen completely missed.
That’s not a goal that any goalie wants to allow, and it put a damper on Lieuwen’s homecoming.
“I thought I had it. But there was a hole. I don’t know what to tell you,” said a dejected Lieuwen. “I feel like that’s one I should obviously save. What a terrible night for that one to go in.”
David Booth would round out the scoring at 2:23 of third, and once again it was Kassian who did all the work. After lugging the puck from inside his own blueline, Kassian fought off a check from Henrik Tallinder and centered a pass to Booth for the easy-tap in.
Vancouver outshot Buffalo 36-18, with the Sabres only able to muster four in the second period.
The Sabres will spend Sunday night in Vancouver before making the five-hour flight to Montreal on Monday morning. They’ll face the Canadiens at the Bell Centre on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.