VANCOUVER — Nathan Lieuwen had a happy homecoming for the first 10 minutes here Sunday night. After that? Not so much.
The Buffalo Sabres rookie goaltender got burned for a couple of soft goals in his second NHL start as the Sabres frittered away an early 2-0 lead and lost to the Vancouver Canucks, 4-2, in Rogers Arena.
Fromer Sabres top draft pick Zack Kassian, swapped for Cody Hodgson at the trade deadline in 2012, toasted his old team with four assists. He had never posted more than two points in a game in his NHL career.
The Sabres fell to 1-2 on their five-game road trip and are 1-8 in their last nine games overall. They will fly to Montreal today and the trip continues against the Canadiens on Tuesday night, with fellow newcomer Matt Hackett scheduled to get the start in goal.
Lieuwen is from Abbotsford, B.C., about 45 miles from Vancouver, and closely followed the Canucks as a youngster. A few dozen family and friends saw him make several good saves as the Canucks outshot Buffalo, 36-18. But he was twice beaten on the short side and made an embarrassing faux pas on Yannick Weber’s fluky tally at 1:40 of the second period that snapped a 2-2 tie.
That goal would have been considered soft if Lieuwen had given it up while playing junior hockey or if was still in Rochester. For it to happen in the NHL was patently unacceptable.
Sabres defenseman Mike Weber bowled Yannick Weber hard into the boards. But just as he was going down, Weber let go a soft flip shot. The 6-foot-5 Lieuwen was slow to react to the puck as he flopped to cover it too late and it gently slithered between his legs into the net.
“I thought I had it but obviously there was a hole,” Lieuwen said. “I don’t know what to tell you. That’s obviously one I feel I can save. What a terrible night for that to go in.”
“That made up for a couple good saves that he did make that maybe he shouldn’t have,” said coach Ted Nolan. “That one shouldn’t have gone in but those things go in on the best of them.”
To indict Lieuwen for the loss, would hardly be fair. The Sabres completely dropped coverage in the slot on Vancouver’s first two goals and did nothing offensively after taking their early lead.
They posted a season-low 14 shots on goal in Tuesday’s 3-1 loss at Calgary in Lieuwen’s previous start, and had just 12 in the first 52 minutes Sunday.
“We’ve got to get to the net more,” said Hodgson, who played in his 200th NHL game. “Our game tonight was in our own zone too much. You can’t score that way. They kept it along the wall. Kassian did a great job cycling the puck and finding open guys.”
The Sabres scored on two of their first three shots, as Tyler Ennis burned Eddie Lack at 1:11 and Jamie McBain got a fortunate deflection off Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa at 3:29 to make it 2-0.
Ennis opened the scoring with his 19th of the year, taking a neat backhand feed from Marcus Foligno and beating Lack on the short side. Lieuwen preserved the lead by stopping Daniel Sedin in front 23 seconds later and the Sabres rewarded his work by extending the lead.
McBain got his fourth goal of the year and first since Jan. 8 as his centering pass hit Bieksa and slowly dribbled into the net.
“We heard he had been shaky so we wanted to get on him early and we did,” Ennis said. “It’s extra disappointing we couldn’t keep putting pucks to the net. It was nice to get a 2-0 lead and then we didn’t do anything with it.”
Kassian made nifty passes to set up Brad Richardson and Shawn Matthias for first-period goals, and to David Booth for another at 2:23 of the third period that made the score 4-2. Richardson beat Lieuwen high when he was down, also an iffy goal.
“That’s frustrating but that’s hockey,” Lieuwen said. “You get some good bounces and do good things and you make some mistakes. So I’ll definitely learn from it.”