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NHL honors Foligno for role in surge

Just 24 days ago, Marcus Foligno had played one NHL game in his career and was still toiling in Rochester. Monday afternoon, he was named the NHL's Rookie of the Month for March.

Foligno joined the team March 10 in Ottawa as an emergency recall and has become part of the team's top offensive line with center Tyler Ennis and fellow winger Drew Stafford.

"It's an honor. It's amazing what has happened this month, not just for myself but with the run the team has gone on," Foligno said after practice Monday. "There's some great players in this league and for me to come in like I did and have success with the line has been huge. I have to give those guys a lot of credit for my success."

Foligno, 20, had six goals, five assists and a plus-10 rating in 11 March games. He admitted he didn't spend much time thinking about a call-up this season.

"I knew I was young and there were guys ahead of me that would get the call-up first," he said. "But I kept working hard and knew if I put in a good season in Rochester, things would get better for me down the road and look where I'm at right now."

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Sabres President Ted Black said the team had discussions with the NHL during presidents meetings two weeks ago in Las Vegas about next season's schedule, specifically on reducing the number of back-to-back sets of games the club has dealt with.

The Sabres played a league-high 21 sets this season, comprising 42 of their 82 games. They went 13-8 in the first game -- but just 7-9-5 in the second. Black said he had hoped to have the number of sets cut this season.

"That was a failure on my part not to get that down," Black said. "We have reinforced it repeatedly that we're basically willing to play any day of the week. The main goal has to be to get the back-to-backs down. The consequence will be probably having fewer Friday night games."

Black said the team's record and the impact the schedule has on practice time are key factors.

"When you win, you think it's great because you have more days to practice," he said. "When you win, back-to-backs are no problem. When you lose, they're a big problem. I just think we would like to be around the league average."

Black said the Sabres are also looking for more balance in the schedule. They had just three home games in January, for instance, and finished the slate with seven of 11 on the road.

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Coach Lindy Ruff said Matt Ellis (knee) has been cleared to play and would be available tonight. Nathan Gerbe (upper body) is close to returning.

Defenseman Mike Weber, who could return tonight, said he still has some stiffness in his neck after taking a hit Friday from Pittsburgh's Matt Cooke.

"I got pushed face-first, shoulder-down with my neck kind of turned in there," Weber said. "I tried [to return] a couple times and the training staff worked hard but I couldn't battle and you can't hurt the team."

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Toronto goalie Ben Scrivens, who was called up Saturday and beat the Sabres for his first NHL win since November, was named the AHL goalie of the month for March on Monday.

Scrivens went 6-3 with a 1.40 goals-against average and a .957 save percentage for the Toronto Marlies. He made 29 saves against the Sabres.

News Sports Reporter Bucky Gleason contributed to this report.

e-mail: mharrington@buffnews.com