ANAHEIM, Calif. – Trivia time: In the wake of Tuesday’s trade of Mike Weber to Washington, which member of the Buffalo Sabres’ traveling party is the senior member of the team?
At only age 24, the answer is Marcus Foligno. The burly winger played his 246th game for the team here Wednesday night against the Anaheim Ducks, the first for the Sabres without the popular Weber.
“I’m that guy now. It’s kind of weird,” Foligno said prior to the game in Honda Center, which did not end in time for this edition. “Times have changed big-time here. You look around from my first year and there’s no one left. It’s just me and Tyler Ennis. But It feels good to still be here. There’s been ups and downs and tough years but it’s good to still be around.”
Ennis, who has not played since Dec. 28 due to a concussion, has played 368 games for Buffalo. He was drafted in the first round in 2008 while Foligno was chosen in the fourth round in 2009 and debuted in 2012.
Players know there will be changes this week with the NHL trade deadline set for Monday, but the loss of someone who has been with the organization since 2006 struck a particular chord.
“It’s a bit of a sad moment to see him go for our team and our organization,” said coach Dan Bylsma. “But at the same time it’s a good opportunity for Mike. … He had been a big part of that room for a number of years. I think there’s a different sense of seeing him go than a first-year player. It’s a little bit different of a feel.”
“He was one of my really close friends on that team,” added Foligno. “He was a heart and soul guy who works his butt off. He came to the rink and you knew what we would get every night. He was that guy that everyone got along with. He organized dinners for guys. You can talk to him about anything. You miss a guy like that.”
Veteran Carlo Colaiacovo played on defense in place of Weber. The Sabres got a third-round pick in 2017 as Weber pushed his value up after two subpar seasons by posting a team-best plus-3 rating.
“It’s defintely going to be weird,” added defenseman Mark Pysyk, who often played with Weber this season. “As long as I’ve been in the organization, he’s been around and has been a big part of the older group. It’s definitely sad to see him go.”
Pysyk said he was most impressed by Weber’s preparation, even on the numerous days the 28-year-old was a healthy scratch.
“He’s been awesome,” Pysyk said. “He knew what they wanted from him and it showed how mentally strong he is and what a hard worker he is. He did a great job understanding his role.”
“He showed up and didn’t complain,” Foligno said. “That’s why guys liked him so much. He never had a negative attitude.
“You didn’t want to think about it. Sometimes eating dinner with him, you’ve been thinking, ‘This might be the last meal with him.’ It’s tough. Things will happen. It’s tough to see teammates and friends go like that but it’s part of the business you have to roll with.”
Weber returned to Buffalo after the deal and will head to Washington Thursday night. The Caps are off on Thursday before meeting Minnesota Friday night in Verizon Center.
Coach Barry Trotz told Washington reporters Wednesday that the team needed to go eight-deep on defense in anticipation of a long playoff run.
“One of the things that we do look for is good people, and we always felt that he played hard against us,” Trotz said. “As coaches, as players, you know when a guy plays hard against you and takes a piece of you all of the time. He’s one of those guys that would be a real good fit for us.”
The Capitals dealt with injuries on their blueline last year during their first-round series with the New York Islanders and are hoping to withstand similar issues this spring.
“You get a couple D men hurt in a long, physical series, you need a lot of depth,” Trotz said. “I think we’ve got a real good defense, and Mike will add to that depth. ... It’s good to have depth. That’s an area that’s hard to fix if you get some injuries there.”
Trotz said he’s given Weber no guarantees on playing time, with the former Sabre likely to start in Washington as a healthy scratch.
“I think he’s got to be a part of the team, and then we’ll play out the possibilities,” Trotz said. “We’ve got 20-odd games left, and hopefully, we can go deep. Trust me, when you get into that other season, you can go as many as 28, and those 28 can feel like 82. They take a big piece of you, so yeah, there’s no guarantees on what’s going to happen. All I know is that we’re deeper on defense because we made the deal with Mike.”
Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said his team’s 3-0 loss to the Sabres Dec. 17 in First Niagara Center was the line of demarcation for Anaheim’s season. The Ducks fell to 11-14-3 that night but won two nights later in New Jersey and finally started to regain their confidence. They entered Wednesday’s game an NHL-best 19-4-2 since Christmas.
“It was probably the low point,” Boudreau said after the morning skate. “Not taking anything away from Buffalo at that point but we had five days off to practice to work on it after a loss to Carolina at home. When we went in there and lost, we weren’t very confident quite frankly after that game.
“I think that’s when the players realized, ‘Hey boys, let’s not worry about who scores.’ They want to win more than they want personal glory. The next game we went out and won and we started playing better since that time.”
The Ducks had one goal in their first four games and just 11 in their first 10 as they went 1-7-2. Now they’re back in the fight for the Pacific Division title.
“It can turn around again in a heartbeat in a week so you’ve got to stay with it,” Boudreau said. “When you do think back though, shut out in five of the first eight games you played, it was a tough pill to swallow.”