In his role as a power forward, Marcus Foligno hears the same thing almost every day.
“Crash the net, get those dirty goals,” someone will say. “Good things happen when you get to the net.”
There’s definitely truth in that wisdom, especially in the goal-starved NHL where scoring from outside 15 feet is as rare as finding decorum during a presidential debate. But Foligno delivered a needed reminder Thursday that good things can also happen when the world’s best hockey players have room to use their skill and creativity.
The winger added to the Sabres’ year-end highlight reel with a sensational short-handed goal, helping Buffalo break out of its offensive funk with a 6-3 victory over Calgary in First Niagara Center. Foligno undressed defenseman T.J. Brodie during a one-on-one situation and sent in a laser off the post to bring emotion to a game that had very little to that point.
“You can pull off those moves once in a while, and it worked,” Foligno said. “You have to make plays out there. You have to be creative in order to set up plays.”
Creativity has been stifled lately, with the league’s defense-first mindset leading to many quiet nights. The Sabres, for example, have been held to a goal or less in 22 games.
Foligno’s goal seemed to shake the cobwebs off everyone’s offensive thoughts. The Sabres and Flames combined for seven goals in the final 24 minutes, lifting fans out of their seats and putting much-needed smiles on the players’ faces. Buffalo had scored just four goals during the previous four games.
“It was real good to hear the goal song six times,” coach Dan Bylsma said. “Some of the guys that did get goals were guys that have been a little bit snakebitten.”
Indeed, a team that has lacked output from its secondary shooters finally had multiple players rediscover the score sheet:
• Defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen scored Buffalo’s first goal, ending a 21-game drought.
• Foligno snapped a seven-game skid.
• Nicolas Deslauriers scored for the first time in 42 games.
• Johan Larsson scored for the first time in Buffalo, giving him four goals for the season. Three have been game-winners, including Thursday’s goal that made it 4-3 with 10:29 to play.
“It just happens in the right moment,” Larsson said. “It’s great to see the puck go in and get two points at home. It’s been awhile.”
Facing the league’s worst goaltender certainly helped Buffalo get its creative juices flowing. The Sabres beat Jonas Hiller five times on 34 shots, dropping his save percentage to a lowly .883. Hiller was on the bench when the Sabres scored their final goal into an empty net.
The Sabres knew Hiller was susceptible to high shots, so that’s where they fired them.
“We talk about areas of goaltenders and where most of the goals go in on them,” Bylsma said. “We were just able to take advantage of the upper part of the net.”
The best shots belonged to Foligno, Deslauriers and Jack Eichel, who floated one home from the point.
“Everybody brought something good,” Deslauriers said. “From our first to our fourth line, we brought energy. We were playing in the O-zone. We just played a good game.”
They also played a creative game, one that allowed them to have fun.
“That was something we talked about on the bench was getting emotionally involved in the game,” Bylsma said. “We did get in the game and kind of take over with how played in the second period.”