COLUMBUS – To be successful in the NHL, you have to go hard to the net. Marcus Foligno is a strong believer in that and put it to practice Tuesday night while on the Buffalo Sabres' top line with Cody Hodgson and Thomas Vanek.
Foligno scored twice and Mikhail Grigorenko added another as the Sabres defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets 3-1 in an exhibition game at Nationwide Arena.
Coming off a five- goal, 13-assist 2012-13 campaign, Foligno is out to prove he can consistently play with Buffalo’s top two scorers from last season.
“Those are two great players and you have to elevate your game. You want the coaches to see you can keep up with those guys and play with them,” Foligno said. “So it was an honor to play with those guys and that’s how I feel. I feel like I can play with those guys and to be on a line with them is something I want for myself.”
R.J. Umberger scored for Columbus. For the Blue Jackets, the game against the Sabres was part of a split-squad effort. The other half of the team was in Minnesota for an exhibition game against the Wild.
Foligno’s second goal – to make it a 2-1 game – was one for the highlight reel. After picking off a pass attempt by Patrick McNeil, Foligno cut in on goal from the right faceoff circle. With shades of Bobby Orr, he dived through the crease headfirst and put the puck in on the far side, past the outstretched right pad of Seregi Bobrovsky.
After the game, Foligno stressed the importance of being an offensive presence around the goal crease.
“That’s where I think most of the goals are scored in the NHL,” he said. “It’s something where you just have to get to the paint and going hard to the net will result in a good scoring chance.”
Sabres coach Ron Rolston thought that Foligno’s play was an extension of what he’s shown in training camp thus far.
“He moves his feet, he makes things happen,” Rolston said. “We’re used to seeing that when I was [coaching him] in Rochester. I think his camp has been outstanding for that. He’s moved his feet. He’s been physical. He’s getting to the net. That’ll be a big asset for us.”
Buffalo’s first goal was scored with 4.5 seconds left in the first period and seconds after a Sabres power play had expired. Defenseman Tyler Myers sent a slap pass from the right point to the front of the net. Foligno, hanging out in the slot, tracked it down and deflected it in past Bobrovsky.
Columbus tied the game 4:29 into the second. Umberger drove hard to the net to follow up on a rebound left by Tim Erixon and had a couple of whacks at it. Miller reached back to try and keep the puck out, but it kept sliding in over the goal line.
The Sabres took a 3-1 lead with 10:37 to play in regulation when a hustle play by Corey Tropp set up Grigorenko for his first goal of the preseason. Columbus goaltender Mike McKenna went behind the net to play the puck and Tropp was waiting on the right wing to meet him there. Tropp dished the puck out in front to Grigorenko, who backhanded it into an empty net.
Tropp is returning from a knee injury that sidelined him for 72 games with the Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League last season. He came back to play five games at the end of the year, but Tuesday was his first action in the NHL since 2011-12.
He skated with Grigorenko and Zemgus Girgensons, who has points in both of Buffalo’s preseason games after picking up the secondary assist on Grigorenko’s goal.
“[On our] first shift we had a scoring chance off the forecheck so that’s always good to get the nerves settled,” Tropp said. “I was obviously a little nervous going in. That’s expected after a long layoff like that, but I thought it was a good first game and I played well. Our line and the whole entire team executed pretty well.”
Rolston was impressed with the play of Tropp and Girgensons and how they created space for Grigorenko.
“They’re both abrasive players and I think they helped [Grigorenko] out tonight. I thought throughout the whole game that they were both abrasive,” Rolston said. “They get in there and they can make plays. It was a nice play by Corey behind the net to him and I thought overall, those guys had some good chemistry tonight."
Vanek served as the team captain during the game. Hodgson and defenseman Christian Ehrhoff were the alternates. Rolston has said he plans on rotating the captaincy throughout the preseason before making a final decision.