Tuesday’s desperately-needed first win of the season was a turn-back-the-clock night of sorts for the Buffalo Sabres. All the way back to, well, 2012.
With Marcus Foligno shifted to center between Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford, the trio willed the Sabres to their 4-3 shootout win over the New York Islanders by providing the kind of jam up front the team has sorely lacked.
The line scored two goals, including Foligno’s game-tying tally with 2:01 to play, and stuffed the stat sheet by combining for 20 shot attempts, nine shots on goal, eight hits and a 12-10 record on faceoffs. Ennis also had the game-winning goal in the shootout.
The trio attacked the Islanders’ zone all night, with strong work along the boards and lots of traffic in front of the net creating plenty of opportunities. It was reminiscent of March 2012, when they took the NHL by storm with 21 goals and 49 points in 13 games after Foligno was promoted from the minors, and nearly helped the Sabres squeeze into the playoffs.
“It was kind of like two years ago where we were playing like that every game, getting it in, moving our feet and making plays,” Ennis said. “It just built confidence with our line. Those good shifts here reminded us how we played a couple of years ago. We have to do that every game.”
After ending their 0-6-1 winless skid to start the season, the Sabres were off Wednesday but coach Ron Rolston said after Tuesday’s win that the line will stay intact for tonight’s visit to First Niagara Center by Vancouver.
Rolston was pleased by the look of the line with Foligno at center and Ennis on left wing. The Sabres have shifted Ennis between wing and the middle a lot the last two seasons, with some case to be made he gets the puck more at center. But he can use his speed along the boards and a healthy Foligno in the middle can create lots of space for Ennis, too.
“It gives you some depth and it’s something we haven’t had this first stretch of games,” Rolston said of the line’s output. “Our second or third line hadn’t produced or generated anything and that line carried us through the game.”
Ennis, who opened the scoring Tuesday with a tap-in from the crease after the puck squirted between the legs of goaltender Evgeni Nabakov, and Foligno both posted their first goals of the season. Stafford, who got his first of the year Saturday in Chicago, added his first assist Tuesday on the Ennis goal. He had a strong game, particularly in the offensive zone, as he screened Nabakov on Foligno’s goal and joined his center in giving the Islanders fits down low and along the wall.
“That’s when they’re at their best,” Ennis said. “They’re so big, they’re tough to handle.”
“It’s just miserable when you’re losing,” Stafford said. “It’s not much fun and it’s hard to stay positive. It’s a battle but that’s what makes it even sweeter when you push through finally. When you’re working like that, you’re trying to juke and jive out there and get a couple pucks on net and fortunately we got a couple breaks.”
Foligno said he quickly found a comfort zone at center and said he had been watching some of Ennis’ tendencies at the position for a while in case he was asked to make the switch back. He said the Sabres started to feel a corner was turned with the team’s strong finish in Saturday’s 2-1 loss at Chicago and that the late comeback on Long Island could be a real springboard.
“Ever since Chicago, you build and keep building,” Foligno said. “We know we have to keep working hard and it paid off. Earlier it might have been hard to come back and get that last goal but now we got it and it’s something that hopefully can change our confidence.”
“We knew it was coming. Our line was coming,” Ennis said. “We had a lot of chances. It felt good but we’re hungry for more.”