CALGARY – Most expected that Mike Cammalleri would be on a different team by the NHL trade deadline, helping a playoff contender win games down the stretch.
Instead, he remained in Calgary where his red-hot scoring is helping the Flames chalk up victories.
Cammalleri’s 20th goal of the season midway through the third period was the game-winner Tuesday night as Calgary downed the visiting Buffalo Sabres 3-1.
Mikael Backlund beat Matt Ellis on a faceoff in the Sabres end, drawing the puck back to Chris Butler. The defenceman’s shot was neatly deflected by Cammalleri past Nathan Lieuwen.
Cammalleri has seven goals in his last nine games. That comes after a stretch leading up to the NHL trade deadline in which he had one goal in 14 games.
“I thought a few weeks ago he was shooting as well as he is now, but it just seemed the puck would find a pad or find a post or miss the net. Right now, Cammy’s on fire,” said Flames coach Bob Hartley.
The 31-year-old, who will be an unrestricted free agent this summer if he doesn’t re-sign, takes over the team lead in goals from rookie Sean Monahan.
“It’s not a surprise to us,” said Hartley. “He’s very talented. He’s Johnny-on-the-spot. He has that knack to find that open space around the net.”
The Flames have been particularly hot at the Scotiabank Saddledome winning nine of their last 11.
“It’s fun to play well at home. We love our fan support,” Cammalleri said. “In the first period, we didn’t really have the bite to our game that we would have liked to but I’m proud of the group to get it going again and playing the last 40 the way we wanted to.”
Joe Colborne and Paul Byron also scored for Calgary (28-34-7). Butler added two assists.
Drew Stafford scored for Buffalo (19-42-8). The last place Sabres, who have dropped seven games in a row, are 13 points back of 29th place Edmonton.
The Sabres led 1-0 right up until the final two minutes of the first period when a turnover eventually resulted in Colborne’s tying goal.
“We’re playing as well as we can possibly can play on the road. I don’t think they had too many chances and all of a sudden we had a one-on-three with two minutes left in the second period and we tried to stickhandle through two guys,” said frustrated Sabres coach Ted Nolan. “It’s just so disheartening is what it is when you have 90 per cent of the guys going and a few that are not.”
The Flames got a key insurance goal from Byron at 13:27 of the third, making it 3-1 on Calgary’s league-leading 12th short-handed goal of the campaign.
After trading Ryan Miller to the St. Louis Blues at the deadline, the Sabres were poised to move forward with the goaltending tandem of Jhonas Enroth and newly acquired Michal Neuvirth.
However, injuries to both of them resulted in the Sabres opening a five-game road trip with Lieuwen, 22, making his NHL debut while his back-up—with 13 NHL games of experience—was Matt Hackett. It was just three days ago that they were the goaltending duo with Buffalo’s American Hockey League affiliate in Rochester.
“It felt really good to get on the ice and be in that atmosphere. That experience, it was incredible,” said the six-foot-five goaltender from Abbotsford, B.C., who finished with 23 saves. Among the friends and family in attendance to watch him live were his wife, his parents and his brother.
Down 1-0, Calgary carried the play in the second period but Lieuwen stood tall and kept them at bay. He made a blocker save off Mikael Backlund, a glove grab off Cammalleri, and another big stop on Byron on a power play.
The Flames finally broke through and when Colborne tied it with 1:02 remaining.
“Overall I thought he played well,” said Nolan.
Buffalo entered the night struggling mightily, amassing just five goals in six straight regulation-time losses.
Stafford had three of them and he kept up his hot hand, scoring the opening goal at 13:22 of the first period after a giveaway by Ben Hanowski.
But that would be it for Sabres, who managed just 14 shots on rookie Flames goaltender Joni Ortio, who evened his record at 4-4-0.
“Extremely frustrating. We’ve been lacking offence. I’ve felt as though for the most part we’ve gotten stellar goaltending and tonight we cleaned up our defensive game for the most part, especially in the neutral zone. It was one of our better efforts,” said Stafford.
Nolan says his team needs to seize the chances they get to shoot the puck.
“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. You can’t score if you don’t shoot. We’re in positions, we get the puck to shoot, then we pass it off for some reason. I’m not too sure why.”
Notes: Calgary C Matt Stajan returned to the Flames line-up. He was away from the club for 13 days and missed eight games after the death of his son Emerson following childbirth two weeks ago… Not dressed for Calgary was rookie Kenny Agostino. Signed on Monday after Yale’s NCAA season came to an end, coach Bob Hartley said he would make his NHL debut Friday against Nashville… Buffalo C Torrey Mitchell (lower body) returned after missing six games… Buffalo led after the first period for only the 11th time, which is lowest in the league. They are 4-6-1.