Over the course of their first three games, the Buffalo Sabres forward lines were generally a mess. They generated little-to-no offense, looked out of sync with each other, and couldn't find the balance of skill and grit that's required for success in the NHL.
On Tuesday night, the blue and gold saw a key piece up front return to the ice as Marcus Foligno finally returned from the hand injury he suffered in preseason, and boy did he make an instant impact.
Foligno made his presence felt early when he crushed Valtteri Filppula with a clean hit on his second shift, which then led straight to a fight between Foligno and the wonderfully-named Radko Gudas. Foligno continued to make his physical presence felt on the ice all game, leading both teams with seven hits.
He had an impact in the offensive zone as well, where despite registering only one shot, he used his big body to get the puck in close and create scoring opportunities. His willingness to drive to the net adds a much needed power forward presence to the top two lines that's been lacking ever since Drew Stafford decided he didn't want to be a power forward any more.
His efforts on the ice did not go unnoticed, and head coach Ron Rolston rewarded the young Foligno with 20:21 of ice time in his return, as his line of Foligno-Ennis-Stafford became Buffalo's de-facto top line as the night wore on. If they can recapture a bit of the magic they had at the end of the 2012 season, it will go a long way toward helping Buffalo's still-sputtering offense.
Foligno is one of the many young players on whom the Sabres are resting their future, and though it's only been one game for him this season, the early returns look promising. Along with Zemgus Girgensons, Mark Pysyk, and (depending on who you talk to) Rasmus Ristolainen, Foligno has shown thus far that he could be a valuable part of a new young core of players that help to lead the rebuilding Sabres out of their 0-3-1 start.