BUFFALO – Considering Marcus Foligno just scored his first goal in 11 games, his target number might seem a little high. After all, the Sabres winger endured an offensive drought following a promotion to a scoring line beside slick center Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart.
But Foligno, who has nine goals, one short of his career high set last season, wants to score 15 times this campaign.
“With 31 games left, it’s doable, very doable,” Foligno, who’s on a 14-goal pace, said Sunday inside KeyBank Center. “That’s my goal. You set goals for yourself in the offensive zone. Fifteen, it’s realistic right now.”
It’s realistic, in part, because Foligno, 25, has developed chemistry beside Eichel and Reinhart, the team’s two young offensive stars.
While the line couldn’t score much before Saturday’s 4-0 win against Ottawa – Eichel assisted on late goals from Foligno and Reinhart – it averaged seven or eight even-strength chances over a five-game stretch, Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said.
“The number of scoring chances that they’ve gotten is (an) elite number,” Bylsma said after the Sabres prepared for tonight’s road tilt against the New Jersey Devils.
Saturday’s game, Bylsma said, “is a great indication of what Marcus is providing.”
The 6-foot-3, 228-pound Foligno helped generate opportunities by using his speed and muscle and getting to the net. Bylsma counted five times in the first period Foligno reached the crease for a scoring chance.
“Result of him going though and driving through,” Bylsma said.
Eichel, 20, and Reinhart, 21, have spent most of the last year together, “so in terms of chemistry and reading off each other,” Eichel said, “we know fairly well what each other are going to do.”
Foligno’s role as their left winger is simple.
“Got to be physical, open up space for Jack and Sam and make them feel as comfortable and let them play with confidence,” Foligno said.
Still, Foligno wants to add his own flair to the line.
“I can’t just be simple,” he said. “Jack and Sam are really creative. I got to make sure that I can do a nifty pass here and there. I got to hold on pucks. … You can’t just dump it in and chase those guys all the time. They’re more of a skill set, so you want to play a skill game with them.”
Foligno, of course, also must occasionally protect the talented youngsters. Mark Borowiecki kept trying to agitate Eichel early Saturday.
“It was pretty clear in the first period that they were going after Jack and targeting Jack,” Bylsma said.
So 12:08 into the second period Foligno fought Borowiecki. The tenacious scrap helped ignite the Sabres, who were struggling through the period.
“He’s always got my back out there, and I know that,” Eichel said. “It means a lot to me that he would do that. He sparked our team. He sparked the building a bit.”
Foligno said: “Don’t want to call it policing of the game, but you want to show that you’re physical, you’re tough, you can push back. We had a push back in the third.”
After Reinhart scored, Foligno helped created his own goal by forechecking tenaciously and forcing a turnover to Eichel deep in the Ottawa zone.
The goal, Foligno’s first since Jan. 10, provided some relief.
“I’m a guy who’s been put on that line to create space and time for them,” Foligno said. “You’re not getting results, it does put pressure on you a bit. So a game like (Saturday’s) helps the confidence.”
But Foligno still possessed some confidence. He hasn’t scored this regularly in almost five years, when he began his career with six goals and 13 points during a torrid 13 game-stretch late in 2011-12.
“I’m back at that position,” he said, “where I feel I can contribute offensively.”