SAN JOSE, Calif. – The center position has been a trouble spot for the Sabres since Chris Drury and Daniel Briere departed in 2007. One of this season’s early dilemmas is finding guys to fill out the top three lines.
The experimentation continued Saturday.
Buffalo coach Ted Nolan shifted Marcus Foligno from left wing to center for the 2-1 victory in San Jose. Foligno started as the second-line center for right wing Drew Stafford and left wing Cody Hodgson.
“It’s different,” Foligno said in SAP Center. “When you’re on the wing, you’re mostly on the wall, protecting your side of the ice. When you’re center, you’re kind of all over. You’re protecting both sides, and you’re up and down.
“It’s a lot of skating, but I think with my big body if I can pin guys in our D-zone, we get the puck out faster. We’ve got guys like Cody Hodgson on the line who can scoot; get him the puck on the wall and maybe he can get going. The transition game could be a little faster now, and that’s what we’re hoping.”
Hodgson, after five uninspiring games in the middle, moved back to where he started the season. He scored the Sabres’ first goal.
“He seemed to adjust to that position a little bit last year and going into the world championships,” Nolan said. “He seems to flourish, and we’ll save his energy for the offensive zone, which he’s known for, and get Marcus to do the gut work down low.”
Foligno had the lowest ice-time total for the Sabres (8:29) while Hodgson was third from the bottom (10:48).
The 6-foot-3, 223-pound Foligno adds size to a position that features first-line center Tyler Ennis (5-9, 169) and third-liner Zemgus Girgensons (6-1, 190). Foligno says his frame can help in the defensive zone if he’s in the right position.
“If you’re a big body, it might be tougher for guys doing cycles,” he said. “You can get in there and screw up their plays. My job is to just get in there and be physical.”
The Sabres might want to monitor their health, according to a report from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.
Players from the Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues suddenly had swollen jaws – jutting out several inches, according to the paper – and experienced flu-like symptoms such as shivering, sweating, headache and fatigue. Another common trait to go with the diagnosed bacterial infections: Both clubs had just played road games in Anaheim and Los Angeles.
The Sabres played in Anaheim on Wednesday and L.A. on Thursday.
The Sabres continued their goaltending rotation. Michal Neuvirth made his third start of the season, including his second on the three-game road trip, and won his first game in five career appearances for Buffalo.
Neuvirth stopped 29 of 30 shots and punctuated the win with a glove save on Brent Burns as time expired.
“It’s a huge win for me and everybody on this team,” Neuvirth said. “We worked really hard for this.”
Neuvirth improved to 1-2 with a 3.02 goals-against average and .916 save percentage. Jhonas Enroth is 1-5 with a 3.13 goals-against average and .914 save percentage.
“Every game so far, we could never blame the goaltending,” Nolan said. “They’ve played well for us. Right now we’ll keep somewhat of a rotation going and pretty soon the No. 1 will spurt out.”
Sabres rookie Sam Reinhart picked up the secondary assist on a goal by Nicolas Deslauriers for his first NHL point. Reinhart posed for a picture with the puck in the dressing room.
“Everybody was picking up the puck and screaming for the puck. I didn’t know why,” Deslauriers said. “I thought they thought it was my first, but it feels good. I’m happy for the kid. I think he’s been working hard. There’s more to come for him.”