Steve Ott captained the Sabres two seasons ago. ©2015, Dan Hickling, Olean Times Herald

Former Sabres captain Steve Ott playing like old self

BUFFALO – A season ago, months removed from hernia surgery, former Sabres captain Steve Ott played his usual high-octane style, but the gritty St. Louis Blues veteran chased the game.

The energy Ott showcased “was more hunting energy,” St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock said Monday prior the Blues’ 2-1 win against the Sabres inside the First Niagara Center.

“He went out of his way for hits,” Hitchcock said. “He went out of his way to try to energize the team.”

These days, Ott, 33, still energizes the Blues. He’s displaying his usual aggressive style, but he’s playing smarter.

“Coming off an injury and surgery, I was probably almost trying too hard to kind of get there,” Ott said. “At times, I was too early or too late. This year, after a strong summer of training and kind of pushing forward from the get-go in training camp, I felt like where I usually am.”

Ott’s role has changed greatly since the Sabres dealt him to the Blues prior to the 2013-14 trade deadline. In Buffalo, he skated more than 20 minutes some nights as a first-liner. In St. Louis, he’s a third- or fourth-liner who kills penalties.

While Ott’s still a strong skater, he rarely scores anymore. Ott, who has 106 career goals, has scored only three times in 129 total games with the Blues. He has zero in 16 contests this season. Sabres goalie Linus Ullmark stopped him on a first-period breakaway.

“I feel like a got a lot of good hockey left in me, and that’s the thing is here it’s more accepting the role I’m put in, trying to excel in the position that I’m given and showing up and being a pro about it,” Ott said.

On Nov. 10 in Tampa Bay, in his 14th appearance this season, Sabres winger Marcus Foligno scored his only goal, a pedestrian wrist shot from the left wall Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy mishandled.

For Foligno, the shot was almost as rare as the goal.

“When he took that shot, he came back to the bench, he knew that was his eighth shot,” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said.

Still, getting rewarded for simply putting the puck on net hasn’t encouraged Foligno to shoot more often.

Entering Monday, Foligno had a team-low nine shots in 233 minutes, 13 seconds on the ice spread over 19 games this season, meaning he has one shot in the last five games.

For some perspective, stay-at-home defenseman Mike Weber has 10 shots in 10 games.

“I got to get back to that, just coming down the wing and firing it,” Foligno said. “That’s the biggest thing. I got to get back to that stuff.”

Why isn’t Foligno, 24, shooting this season? He averaged 1.2 shots a game last season, 1.1 two years ago and 1.2 three years ago. He’s at 0.5 this season.

“I don’t know,” he said. “Maybe some get blocked. I think it’s just a case of being around the net a lot. I think I kind of catch myself sometimes … try to screen the goalie or box out guys while other guys have it.”

True, the 6-foot-3, 226-pound Foligno is one of the Sabres’ best presences down low. But shouldn’t he be able to shoot more than Weber?

“Sometimes you want to shoot, you got to take a better shot,” Foligno said. “You’re not going to take a shot when you’re far, far from the net. No one’s in front. The goalie nowadays are going to stop it more times than not.”

Vasilevskiy couldn’t stop Foligno earlier this month.

It’s a fine line. As a shifty, speedy player who often creates highlight-reel goals few NHLers can pull off, Sabres winger Tyler Ennis’ instincts often tell him to go for the glitzy play.

But mired in one of the worst slumps of his 364-game career, Ennis, who hasn’t scored in 10 games, knows he needs to go for the safer play.

“It’s tough because I know I can make the plays,” Ennis said. “I know I can make tricky plays, fun plays. I think you got to get back to basics and simplify and build from that.”

Clearly, Ennis, who has three goals and 10 points in 19 games, is pressing. Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said it again Monday morning. When asked if he’s pressing, Ennis replied, “I think that’s the same thing as frustration.”

Naturally, Ennis’ recent dry spell has sapped some of his confidence.

“I want to make plays, but it’s not happening right now,” he said. “I just got to work my way out of it. Maybe when one goes in the monkey will come off my back.”

Bylsma knows Ennis goes for the big play too often.

“You can’t make those plays in every situation and at every point you touch the puck and when you’re 90 feet from your goal or 120 feet from your goal, 150 feet from your goal,” he said. “He’s just got to simplify his game. He is a special player, can make those plays.”

Sabres defenseman Mark Pysyk (bone bruise, lower body) missed his third straight game. Bylsma said center Zemgus Girgensons (upper body), out four games, is day-to-day and “progressing.”

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