The Buffalo Sabres are trying to figure out what they have in Marcus Foligno. He’s only 22 and he’s trying to figure it out, too.
Is he a scorer, akin to the guy who had 13 points in 14 games in his first NHL stint in 2012? Is he a brutish fourth-line banger, punctuated by his one-punch TKO of New Jersey’s Ryan Carter on Saturday night in Newark? Can he score while figuring things out defensively?
The answer is probably a combination of all of the above. One thing is clear: Foligno’s ice time is dropping with Ted Nolan as coach.
Foligno has no points in his last six games and has played more than 11 minutes over regulation in just one of those. Nolan hasn’t made the winger a healthy scratch yet but you wonder if Foligno’s turn in the press box, at least for a one-game look from above, may be coming.
That’s especially true when you consider Cody McCormick is ready to come back from injury and Mikhail Grigorenko is looking to escape his two-game benching.
“For all young players, the hardest part of being at this level is the consistency factor,” Nolan said. “Some games he shows that power forward mentality. Then some games he drifts off. All young kids do that.
“What we’ve got to try to do is get a consistent level from him. He’s got some good size, good ability. Now we’ve just got to utilize that on a game-by-game basis.”
Foligno has three goals, five assists and a minus-10 rating for the season. In 72 games the last two years, he has eight goals, 26 points and is minus-14.
“He wants to see work ethic every night,” Foligno said of Nolan. “It’s a process. He’s talked to me about it. He hasn’t shied away from the conversation. He knows what’s expected and he’s been clear about it so it’s pretty good.’’
Foligno would like to produce more offense.
The fact the team has had three head coaches in the last nine months can be particularly trying for a younger player.
“It’s a tough start to a career the way the team mentality is with coaching changes,” he said. “It’s been difficult in that sense. You really can’t get a grab on the situation where you really don’t have a permanent coach for a year. You have to switch it up.
“Ted has a lot of trust in me and he expects a lot of me. He’s a good coach, a good communicator. I think it’s going to be good for the future as he’s trying to develop me into a physical player.”
Foligno has just three shots on goal in the last five games and didn’t have any in Saturday’s 1-0 overtime loss to the Devils. He’s on the fourth line and it would be an easy switch to flip either Foligno or Brian Flynn out of the lineup for McCormick and/or Grigorenko.
“Marcus can be a big power forward but we’ve got to see the power forward come out of him,” Nolan said. “The last couple games he was OK. Young kids coming in, I tell them you can’t be OK.”
Saturday’s loss was Buffalo’s 43rd 1-0 game in the franchise’s 43 seasons. The Sabres are 25-18 in those games and goaltender Jhonas Enroth was 3-0 in them until getting beat by Steve Bernier’s overtime goal.
Carter didn’t practice Sunday in the wake of Foligno’s wicked punch and the Devils did not take him on their trip to Montreal for tonight’s game.
“He got cut and when he went down he went down a little awkward, too,” Devils coach Peter DeBoer told New Jersey reporters Sunday. “So there are a couple of things going on there. I would term it day-to-day.”
The Sabres took Sunday off and will return to the ice this morning. They are on their longest break of the season, aside from the three weeks they will have off in February for the Olympics. Their next game isn’t until the New York Rangers come to town on Thursday.
The Sabres finished November with a 4-8-1 record after going 2-12-1 in October. They have 12 games in December, including seven at home. Buffalo is 3-11-1 at home, 3-9-1 on the road.