Brian Holzinger and the Buffalo Sabres threw an increasingly heavy burden off their backs with a 4-1 victory over the Calgary Flames Wednesday night before the second-smallest crowd of the season, 11,222, at Marine Midland Arena.
For a change, the Sabres outshot (21-18) an opponent in what coach Lindy Ruff called his team's best 60-minute performance of the season. It was the first time Buffalo held an opponent below 30 shots.
"Good effort right from the start," said Ruff, whose team had not won in two weeks.
Holzinger, who had five goals at the 10-game mark a year ago, notched his first two this season -- both on the power play -- as Buffalo hit the 10-game mark with a 3-5-2 record, compared to last year's 5-5-0.
"Any time you're struggling it's nice to break through," said Holzinger, who had a 22-goal season last year and was expected to improve on that output in his third NHL season.
Darryl Shannon also scored a power-play goal for the Sabres, who were 3 for 7 with the man advantage. It was his first. Brad May also notched his first while Jason Dawe and Derek Plante registered a pair of assists each.
Veteran defenseman James Patrick had the only tally for coach Brian Sutter's Flames, who fell to 1-6-2.
The victory snapped a four-game winless streak (0-3-1) for the Sabres, who had not won since their 5-2 home victory over Washington on Oct. 9.
After 5-1 and 5-2 losses last weekend to Montreal and Chicago, the Sabres endured two days of practice in which Ruff and his assistants reviewed the basics of the team's system -- forechecking, neutral-zone play and coverage in the defensive end. It seemed to produce results against a Calgary team which is struggling but is not without offensive talent.
"Overall, our defense played better but I think we can play better yet," Ruff said.
"It was something we needed because we had players who weren't sure of what they were supposed to be doing," said Holzinger of the review.
Overlooked in the Sabres' struggles lately is the improved production on the power play. Since being blanked in the first four games, the power play has produced at least one goal in each of the last six games and is 11 for 27 (40.7 percent) in that stretch.
Buffalo also got a strong performance from its penalty killers, who turned back six Calgary opportunities.
"I think they had only one chance and they got that when we had a lost stick and we got running around," Ruff said of the Buffalo penalty-killers.
Also encouraging was a sharp performance by Dominik Hasek in goal. He faced only 18 shots, but looked good regardless.
Patrick's goal at 4:11 of the first period was the latest the Sabres have allowed a first goal at home in four games.
Buffalo got that one back in a little more than four minutes, and Dawe made it easy for Holzinger to break his slump. The Sabres winger snapped a perfect pass from the lower edge of the right circle across the goalmouth to Holzinger, who beat goalie Rick Tabaracci, coming across to try to cover the open side, at 8:45 of the first.
Buffalo grabbed the lead for good at 3:02 of the second on Shannon's shot from the right point after Cory Stillman of the Flames had taken a hooking penalty.
Holzinger drilled a shot through the pads of Tabaracci on a rush at 7:19 of third. The final goal came when Plante directed the puck to the front of the net and it went in off May's skate. The Sabres lost winger Donald Audette for the rest of the game when he was elbowed in the head by Flames rookie Steve Begin along the boards with 7 minutes remaining in the second period. Begin received a two-minute boarding penalty. Audette suffered a concussion and had to be helped from the ice. He was taken to Buffalo General Hospital for further examination. It was not certain if he will miss playing time. The Sabres' next game is Sunday night at Phoenix.
Holzinger, Hasek and Dawe were chosen the game's three stars, in that order.