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Foligno hitting his markers with Sabres

The Sabres are putting Marcus Foligno in position to score. He’s taking advantage of both the opportunity and the position.

Foligno, who’s back at left wing after ending last season at center, found the net Saturday night for the third time in the preseason. It wasn’t enough to keep the Sabres from sustaining their first setback. Toronto came back from a 2-0 hole to earn a wild 3-2 shootout victory in First Niagara Center.

Buffalo fell to 3-0-1 by failing to score in its 15 shootout attempts. The Maple Leafs’ Jay McClement finally solved Jhonas Enroth to end the breakaway challenge in front of 19,070 fans.

The teams play the second of back-to-back games tonight in Air Canada Centre. Buffalo hosts Columbus on Wednesday and closes the exhibition schedule Friday in Carolina.

Foligno has reached the score sheet in both his preseason outings. He scored twice Tuesday in Columbus while skating alongside center Cody Hodgson and right wing Thomas Vanek. The left winger was on the first line again versus the Leafs, this time with Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford.

It’s a big boost from the end of last year. After failing to putting up numbers on the wing, Foligno became a third- and fourth-line center down the stretch. Though he did well in the faceoff circle, the role wasn’t what folks expected from a guy who recorded 13 points in 14 games the previous season.

“I don’t think he was happy with the way the end of the season turned out,” coach Ron Rolston said. “Whether they think it’s me or them, they have to make that change. He took the ownership on that.

“He really had to come back. He wants to be an elite player in this league. He had to come back and show that.”

The Sabres’ preseason goal leader has shown the drive the coach wants.

“I think he’s brought it,” Rolston said. “He’s moving really well out there. He’s big, he’s strong. He’s making room, making things happen out there with his size. That’s the way he’s got to play.

“He’s been really good in camp. For him now it’s just to continue that consistency to be the player we want to see. This is the player we saw for some of the games last year but just not a consistent level.”

The 22-year-old Foligno took lessons and wants to put them to use.

“I learned a lot last year, and I feel really good,” he said. “I think the preparation was the biggest thing. I wanted to be in shape and mentally focused. I think that’s the stage I’m at now, and I think that’s a good way to start.”

For a preseason game, Saturday’s contest featured a lot of passion. The rivalry between the fans started as soon as the puck dropped, with Toronto fans showing they are in regular-season form with a “Go, Leafs, go” chant. The hostilities carried onto the ice with a pair of opening-period fights starring Buffalo’s Cody McCormick and Steve Ott.

The game was scoreless until midway through the second, when Buffalo continued its trend of defensemen making a difference.

Mark Pysyk accepted a pass from Stafford just inside the Toronto blue line, danced around one defender and shot before the other could slide over. Goaltender James Reimer got only a piece of the high blast.

The Sabres’ blue-liners recorded two goals and seven points in the opening three games, and Pysyk added another point when he assisted on the second goal. The defenseman set up Ennis for a two-on-one, and Foligno fought off a tripping penalty and put Ennis’ pass between Reimer’s pads.

The Leafs rallied in the third with a pair of goals. Jamie Devane got fans of the visiting team out of their seats with 10:07 left in regulation. Jay McClement put the shootout on the agenda by driving the net with 4:37 to play and tipping home a pass from Carter Ashton.

Enroth finished with 32 saves. Reimer made 38 stops.

“We probably should have closed that one out,” Enroth said. “They had a couple good bounces and just bad luck on the goals.”