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Foligno's game features physicality but can also bring some goals

When Marcus Foligno secured an empty-net goal Thursday night, it marked the first time in over a year that he had scored two goals in one game.

In six-years in the National Hockey League, the Buffalo Sabres forward has not been pegged as a goal scorer. His contributions often come in other ways not noted among the stats of the final game summary -- the space he creates for his linemates, the havoc he can cause when parked in front of opposing goalies, the physical play which can wear down opponents over the course of 60 minutes.

Still, the goals are nice. And Foligno can score them. They just seem to come in streaks.

Thursday's two goals, a short-handed finish of a Ryan O'Reilly play and the empty-netter, gave Foligno three goals in his last four games.

His longest goal-scoring streak of the season is three games, from Jan. 5-Jan. 10. That was part of a stretch where Foligno had five points in seven games.

But then came the opposite kind of streak, where he managed just one goal in 20 games.

"Little frustrated," Foligno said about the drought, "but I feel like I was doing the little things right and contributing to help us win. Playing hard, still. Playing physical. I wasn’t shying away from things. I was just not getting bounces, not getting opportunities like I had when I was on that streak. Happy to kind of be back on the opposite side of it.  Playing with Jack and Sam you’ve got to get open. You’ve got to get to the net and then create chances that way."

In Thursday's 6-3 win over the Arizona Coyotes, Foligno played with Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart. He was again on their line Friday as the team practiced in HarborCenter to prepare for back-to-back weekend games, hosting Tampa Bay in KeyBank Center Saturday night, then traveling to Pittsburgh to face the Penguins on Sunday.

While Foligno's value often comes away from the score sheet, he does have a career-high 12 goals this season and part of that comes from playing with offensive talents like Eichel and Reinhart.

"I know that goal scoring isn’t my first choice of what my role is out there," Foligno said. "I know it’s hard play, physicality, and good defensive play. But there is creativity in my game. It just has to come out in smart ways, let’s put it that way. It can’t be in tough times on the ice where you’ve got to get a puck in deep. It’s got to be smart, maybe down low and things like that. Trying to be more creative but with Sam and Jack that stuff just comes out of you."

The other part of his game that emerges, the one the Sabres need most from Foligno, are hits. Big hits. And he does that. Foligno had a game-high eight hits in the win over Arizona.

"I don’t know where he is in the league at this moment, but he's certainly the leader on our team by a good margin," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. "And I think he’s a presence out there that other teams notice and are quite leery of."

Bylsma noted that Thursday there "were at least seven times he’s standing at the net either occupying space or right in front of the goalie. Whether we shoot it there or got it there or not, he’s right in front. ... His eight hits in the game, he was physical, making room for those guys, strong on the puck, going to the net for them. That’s what he does for that line. That's what he does when he’s playing good."

And when Foligno is playing well, he can be plugged into several spots in the Sabres lineup effectively.

"He’s kind of a pivot guy," captain Brian Gionta said of Foligno. "His role is going to change depending upon injury and need but he’s a guy when he’s using his speed, his body, he’s a tough guy to stop. He’s a big guy that can make you pay on the forecheck. He can bring pucks to the net. He’s been doing that more consistently throughout the year."

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