BUFFALO – When Marcus Foligno’s dismal, five-goal season ended in April, the 22-year-old could’ve laid the blame on others or taken responsibility, Sabres coach Ron Rolston said.
“Whether they think it’s me or them, ultimately they got to make that change, and I think he took that ownership on that,” Rolston said Saturday prior to the Sabres’ 3-2 exhibition shootout loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs before a capacity crowd of 19,070 fans inside the First Niagara Center.
Ten days into a new season, Rolston said Foligno has “brought it” to training camp.
“He wants to be an elite player in this league, and he had to come back to camp and show that,” Rolston said, “and he’s shown that.”
Foligno scored his third preseason goal in just his second appearance Saturday, sweeping a second-period shot past Toronto goalie James Reimer from in close after Tyler Ennis fed him.
The winger also scored twice in his exhibition debut Tuesday in Columbus, seizing his opportunity beside Cody Hodgson and Thomas Vanek, the Sabres’ top duo.
“Whenever you get a chance to play on a big line like that, you got to impress and do something, just contributing or making space for those guys,” Foligno said Friday.
He added: “I want to be a top player on this team. You get a lot of confidence when the coaches and general managers and staff think that you can play that role.”
Foligno was back with Ennis and Drew Stafford against the Leafs, the linemates he stormed into the NHL beside late in 2011-12.
A rollicking 13-game stretch in which Foligno compiled six goals and 13 points quickly established him as a top power forward and raised expectations for last season, his first full NHL campaign.
But Foligno, who played well in Rochester during the lockout, struggled when the NHL season started in January, rarely using his 6-foot-3, 223-pound frame to effectively attack the net and be a dominant presence down low.
He only scored once in the first 25 games. Rolston, Foligno’s AHL coach, scratched him March 2, just weeks after taking over for Lindy Ruff. Foligno ended the season mired in a 14-game goal drought. He even played some center and was demoted to the fourth line.
“You review and reflect and then you get back to work,” Foligno said about his poor season. “That’s what I did this summer, and I feel great this year.”
Foligno and Rolston clearly trust each other. Rolston helped the youngster develop into the organization’s best prospect two years ago.
“I feel very comfortable with him on the bench,” Foligno said. “He’s vocal. He’ll tell you things. He’s not the one that’s going to scream at you on the bench. But he’ll come up to you and let you know what you did wrong and what you did right.”
Before Foligno left Buffalo in the spring, the two chatted about Rolston’s belief Foligno can play “crucial roles” for the Sabres.
“My expectations are very high, and that’s what they should be,” Foligno said. “They shouldn’t be anything lower than that. I’ve got to keep myself held up to those high expectations and have responsibilities.”
To reach those expectations, Foligno must keep showcasing consistency, Rolston said.
“This is the player we want to see, and this is the player I thought we saw for some of the games last year, but just not at a consistent level,” he said. “ … He’s moving really well out there. He’s big, he’s strong. He’s making room. He’s making things happen out there with his size. That’s the way he’s got to play.”
Incredibly, Jay McClement scored the shootout’s only goal in the 15th round.
While the Elias Sports Bureau doesn’t track preseason stats, the shootout matches the regular-season record between Washington and the New York Rangers on Nov. 26, 2005, according to the Sabres.
In the 10th round, Paul Ranger zoomed in on Sabres goalie Jhonas Enroth and kicked his stick, sending the puck over the net. Enroth then mildly slashed Ranger as the defenseman skated by him.
The odd shot – perhaps the weirdest ever attempted since the NHL instituted the shootout in 2005 – initially irked Enroth.
“I didn’t really like it,” Enroth said. “I felt like he was embarrassing me there. But it’s good to see, I guess, trying to be creative, too. When I think about it now it’s fine.”
Mark Pysyk scored the Sabres’ other goal. Enroth made 32 saves.
Sabres winger Zemgus Girgensons hurt his hand in overtime and didn’t participate in the shootout. Rolston didn’t have an update.
Update: Rolston said Girgensons is fine.
The Sabres sent five players – forwards Daniel Catenacci, Tim Schaller, Jamie Tardif (pending waivers) and Phil Varone and defenseman Jerome Gauthier-Leduc – to Rochester on Saturday.
In addition, the Sabres released forward Colton Gillies from his professional tryout. The 24-year-old, a first-round pick by Minnesota in 2007, scored once in two appearances.
The Sabres, who play tonight in Toronto, have 35 players – 20 forwards, 12 defenseman and three goalies – left in camp.
Rochester opens its camp Monday.