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Inside the NHL: Homecoming beckons for Wild's Foligno and Ennis

TORONTO -- Marcus Foligno told Minnesota beat writers last month he's quickly learned the difference between the Sabres and the Wild, and reiterated it last week during a visit in Air Canada Centre.

"We have to be emotionally involved. There's nothing but winning here," Foligno told The Buffalo News. "Anything less than that is failure. That's not to discredit anything in Buffalo, that's just the environment we were in. We weren't in that state. You put up a good fight and showed up, that was OK. Here's, it's not. You've got to win. That's two totally different directions."

Foligno and Tyler Ennis will be back in town Wednesday night as the Wild makes their only appearance of the season in Buffalo. It will be their first time back since the summer trade that brought Marco Scandella and Jason Pominville to Buffalo.

"It's going to be really weird," Foligno said. "It will hit me when we land in Buffalo. You go down the highway to downtown and instead of living there and going to your place, we're going to be going to the Marriott. That might be the biggest thing that will be weird but I'm excited to get to Buffalo and see all the familiar faces. It's been home to me and meant a lot to me for a long time."

"I'm anticipating it to be strange, no doubt," Ennis said. "I still talk to the guys. I love Buffalo and always will. That's the place, the city that gave me my chance to play in the NHL and I'll always remember that."

Tyler Ennis is playing in Minnesota with boyhood friend Jared Spurgeon (Getty Images).

The Wild hit the weekend on a four-game winning streak and climbing in the ultra-tight Central Division, where the bottom five teams entered Friday all within three points. Goaltender Devin Dubnyk's three straight shutouts took plenty of pressure off after a 5-7-2 start for coach Bruce Boudreau's club.

"Bruce doesn't accept losing and that's the bottom line here," Foligno said. "We had a bad game in Boston and had a team talk where we said we're a lot better than we've showed."

"He's learning in a hurry that losing is really not accepted," Boudreau said. "You can't make positive things out of losing. Bottom line is you're not winning. the only way to have fun is to win. Nothing else matters. The sacrifices you have to make, whether in practices or the game, are probably something him and Tyler haven't been used to recently."

No one during separate interviews used the word "tanking" but it's pretty clear that's what Boudreau, Foligno and Ennis were all referring to. If you need an explanation at this point, you probably need to be reading another column.

Foligno is likely here for the long-term too, signing a four-year, $11.5 million contract just before the start of training camp. Ennis has one more season after this one on the five-year, $23 million pact he signed with the Sabres in 2014.

"Tyler and I have had to get used to the mindset here because you develop bad habits and you have to learn some good ones," Foligno said. "Right from day one, as soon as I signed, that was the thing. The practices were competitive and you mess up a drill, you do it again. Everyone had to be perfect. We had to get acclimated to it and it's been great to be here. Get those habits going and understand this is a winning culture."

"It's a different culture for sure, a great culture to be around," said Ennis, who has had no issues from the concussions that dogged him the last two years. "It's hard but it's fun."

Both players have spent time all over the Wild lineup, with stints on the top line and the fourth line. Ennis has played himself on to the top line with Mikko Koivu and Mikael Granlund over the last three games while Foligno is with Matt Cullen and ex-Sabre Chris Stewart as he slowly returns from a facial fracture suffered in a fight with Chicago's John Hayden ("I was winning too and he got me," said Foligno).

A side benefit for Ennis is being able to play with star Wild defenseman Jared Spurgeon, his childhood best friend in suburban Edmonton.

"That's been amazing, very special for both us every day," Ennis said. "It's something we never could have imagined growing up. He's become a great player and it's fun to see him get recognized as one of the best in the league."

Foligno entered the weekend with three goals and four assists in 17 games, while leading the team with 56 hits. Ennis was at three goals and two assists in 18 games. Both are averaging around 12 1/2 minutes per game in the very balanced Minnesota lineup.

"It's very different hockey, fast-paced and physical with the kind of teams you meet," Foligno said. "It's early November and we've played Chicago twice already. There are a lot of different challenges here."

Bolt power is overwhelming

How good are the Lightning this year?

"It's pretty scary," Tampa Bay VP Dave Andreychuk admitted when I asked the new Hall of Famer about the current Bolts at last week's festivities in Toronto. "I've watched two games in a row now late at night, played two teams who were just not ready to compete against them and it's been fun to watch."

Andreychuk was referring to road wipeouts in San Jose (5-1) and Los Angeles (5-2), the latter featuring a four-goal first period. The Lightning rolled up 32 points in their first 19 games, entering the weekend 15-2-2 and already putting the Sabres into an 18-point deficit in the Atlantic Division before the first quarter of the season was even done.

With Steven Stamkos out for the final 65 games last year, Tampa Bay still finished with 94 points and missed by playoffs by just one despite going 8-1-1 in its last 10 games. Stamkos is on a runaway pace this year, with a league-leading 35 points in the 19 games.

"Last year they got a little slap on the wrist and it happens to all the good teams," Andreychuk said. "You want to prove to the hockey world you belong and they're sure doing it."

Andreychuk's '04 Stanley Cup club had a reunion in Tampa a couple weeks ago and he's one of several players from that group who reguarly mingle with the current Lightning, to the delight of current coach Jon Cooper.

"They realize how close that team was and that's a good lesson for them," Andreychuk said. "Jon Cooper has embraced us and I can tell you we're all over the dressing room. He's going, 'This is the pinnacle that you want to get to and this team achieved it.' Those guys understand that."

Thanking family and Buffalo roots, Dave Andreychuk enters Hockey Hall of Fame

Sam I am

While Sabres fans might continue to rue former GM Tim Murray passing on Leon Draisaitl in the first round of the 2014 draft, there's no question Murray at least took the right Sam, selecting Reinhart over Bennett.

Bennett, taken No. 4 by Calgary, is struggling mightily this year with the Flames and it took him 16 games to get his first point this season. Flames president Brian Burke, speaking on TSN Radio in Toronto, said he's thankful Bennett is getting space from the Calgary media in the face of his slump.

Burke, the former Leafs GM, knows all too well what would happen in Toronto to a young player with no points.

“If he were in Toronto, they would’ve traded him 70 times, shot him six times, condemned his parents four times,” Burke said. “If he was going through that here, he’d be getting crucified.”

Price hedging on return

Canadiens goalie Carey Price said Tuesday that his mysterious injury happened in warmup prior to the Nov. 2 game against Minnesota but that his return is getting closer.

"It’s just taken a little bit longer than expected just because of the nature of my position," Price said. "So I just want to make sure I’m 100 per cent and can do my job to the best of my ability when I come back so I’m going to make sure to take my time with it and it won’t be very long.”

Price was 3-7-1, 3.77/.877 prior to the injury and the Canadiens have been saved by the solid work of rookie Charlie Lindgren in goal. But with Price and backup Al Montoya both on the shelf, the Habs claimed struggling veteran Antti Niemi off waivers. Doubt he'll help much, as he's posted a 6.74 GAA in five games this year with Pittsburgh and Florida.

Happy 100th, NHL

The league's official 100th anniversary celebration was scheduled for Friday and Saturday in Montreal, where the league was officially born at the Windsor Hotel on Nov. 26, 1917. The Windsor was the site was Friday's first general managers meeting of the season. Following the meeting, Commissioner Gary Bettman, the GMs, several Hall of Famers and reps from Canadian government dedicated a plaque recognizing the site as the birthplace of the league.

The league started the celebration last year with the glittering NHL100 of top players that was unveiled at the All-Star Game in Los Angeles. Meanwhile, the league's fan vote for the greatest moment of its 100 seasons is down to the final four.

The semifinals are Wayne Gretzky reaching 50 goals in a record-setting 39 games (Dec. 30, 1981) vs. Mario Lemieux becoming the first player to score goals five different ways in the same game (Dec. 31, 1988), and Bobby Orr scoring in overtime to give Boston the 1970 Stanley Cup against Teemu Selanne setting the rookie goal-scoring record goal-scoring record (March 2, 1993).

Mike Harrington: Sabres' NHL100 legends ready for franchise's better days

Orr is an easy winner on the bottom semi while the first one is a tough call personally. Gretzky likely wins the fan vote but I have sentiment toward the Lemieux game, a matinee in old Civic Arena which I attended on a week-before decision with a college friend. We saw Lemiuex score at even strength, on the power play, short-handed, on a penalty shot and into the empty net in an 8-6 win over New Jersey. To show how stats have changed since then, it was literally two weeks later when we first found out that had never happened before. Now you'd know in 10 minutes.

Semifinal voting closes Tuesday at NHL.com/GreatestMoments, with the final round of voting starting Wednesday and running through Nov. 28. The No. 1 moment will be announced during the NHL100 Classic on Dec. 16, as Montreal meets Ottawa outdoors in Ottawa's Lansdowne Park.

Around the boards

* Speaking of the Habs, coach Claude Julien went full-blast on them after Thursday's 5-4 home loss to Arizona -- the pathetic Coyotes' first regulation win of the season. Said Julien: "I'm not saying we didn't respect the opponent but we didn't respect our game plan because we thought it was going to be easy. For two days we talked about this. Unacceptable, embarrassing. That's what we were tonight."

* Just when he was trying to get his season started, West Seneca native Lee Stempniak had it shut down again as he suffered an upper-body injury just two shifts into his first game on an conditioning assignment at the Hurricanes' Charlotte affiliate. The Canes said it was a different injury than the one Stempniak was rehabbing, a hugely bad break for the 34-year-old.

* Publicly, the NHL has no current plans to expand again. Privately, you wonder. Several national outlets reported in recent days that Bettman and new Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta met in New York to discuss the potential for a hockey team in H-Town, which is riding high in the wake of the Astros' World Series victory. Fertitta, a restaurant and casino mogul, bought the Rockets for $2.2 billion in September and the 18,000-seat Toyota Center is NHL ready.

Former Rockets owner Leslie Alexander had no interest in a hockey team and since he controlled dates in the arena, the league had no chance to enter the No. 4 American television market. Expansion has gone so well in Las Vegas -- and that $500 million franchise fee was so well received by other teams -- that you wonder when the league might make it an even 32 teams with H-Town.

* The Canadiens called up former Sabre Nic Deslauriers from Laval of the AHL and gave him No. 20, last worn by current Rochester-to-Buffalo defense shuttler Zach Redmond. First to wear it, way back in 1951? Legendary Habs captain Jean Beliveau. Nos. 8, 12 and 17 were also worn by Beliveau before he settled on his iconic No. 4 in 1954 and wore it through his retirement in 1971. It then went to the rafters of the Forum and now Bell Centre.

* Elias Sports says that the Flames became the sixth club in the league this season to score six or more goals in consecutive games with Monday's 7-4 win over St. Louis. By comparison, how dry has the Sabres' offense become over the years? They haven't accomplished that feat since Feb 5-8, 2011 in a 6-2 win over Toronto and a 7-4 win at Tampa Bay.

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