TORONTO – A frustrating season is officially behind Nick Foligno.
The 22-year-old Ottawa Senators winger turned the page on an injury-plagued campaign in style, racing around Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf and scoring a nice goal in Tuesday’s pre-season opener—a 5-0 win over Toronto.
It’s the kind of moment Foligno expects to experience more often after a productive summer that has him feeling better than ever. Finally, the broken leg and knee injury that made last season a “mess” are well in the rear-view mirror.
“It was a tough year with a lot of adversity from injuries,” said Foligno. “I’ve never really had that before in my career. … Now I think I’m more mature as a player, I know my body better. Mentally and physically I feel a lot better this year.
“It’s all behind me now and I’m just looking forward to making an impact.”
Entering his fourth season as a pro, Foligno is hoping to take on more of an offensive role with the Senators. He had just nine goals in 61 regular-season games a year ago, but feels like he’s capable of much more.
“That’s my ultimate goal,” said Foligno. “I feel I have the abilities to be able to do that on this team. I want that challenge. It’s just a matter of going out there and doing it.
“It’s a process and there’s a lot of great players and a lot of guys pushing for that opportunity.”
He was one of the few regular NHLers who dressed on a night where both teams gave several of their prospects a chance to play. Both the Leafs and Senators have busy pre-season schedules and will face one another again Wednesday at Air Canada Centre.
Jesse Winchester, Corey Locke, Chris Neil and Chris Kelly had the other goals for Ottawa. Neil added two assists.
Robin Lehner also stood out for the Sens, stopping all 24 shots he faced while playing the entire game as counterpart Mike Brodeur sat out with food poisoning. The 19-year-old spent last season with the OHL’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds and is likely to start this year in AHL Binghamton.
“It feels awesome right now,” Lehner said of his first shutout at the NHL level. “I couldn’t have done any better. … But I’m going to be a lot happier when I get my first real win.”
Jonas Gustavsson and Jussi Rynnas split the goaltending duties for Toronto.
Winchester opened the scoring at 5:59 of the first period, taking advantage of some open space in front of the Toronto goal to beat Gustavsson through the legs. Foligno made his move less than four minutes later when he raced around Phaneuf and roofed the puck to quickly make it 2-0.
“I think I caught him flat-footed,” said Foligno.
A sellout crowd was attending the game for free through a promotion, but that didn’t keep the fans from booing.
Some familiar problems were on display for the Leafs. Dead last in the NHL on the power play a year ago, Toronto failed to convert on eight chances, including two lengthy 5-on-3s, as coach Ron Wilson continually sent out his top line of Nazem Kadri, Kris Versteeg and Colby Armstrong with Phaneuf and Tomas Kaberle.
The coach took it all in stride.
“One, we haven’t worked on a 5-on-3 yet,” said Wilson. “Two, not unlike our problem last year, we’re very hesitant to move pucks quickly. And there were three or four things wrong.
“But it’s stuff that we’ll work on going forward.”
Wilson had said earlier in the day that Kadri would have to put up some points to make the NHL team out of training camp, but it wouldn’t happen on this night.
Instead, the Senators were the only ones finding the scoresheet.
Locke, a career minor-leaguer, made it 3-0 late in the second period after Rynnas had been sent in. Neil and Kelly added goals in the third period.
“I don’t think there was one guy I could say I was disappointed with,” said Senators coach Cory Clouston.
It was a better start than they could have forecasted. With less than 10 regulars in the lineup, the Sens weren’t entirely sure what to expect from the pre-season opener.
“There was a lot of pleasant surprises,” said Foligno. “A lot of guys stepped up and played really well. It says a lot aboutthe depth we have in this organization.”
Notes: Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson, Alex Kovalev, Milan Michalek, Chris Phillips and Pascal Leclaire didn’t make the trip from Ottawa … Clarke MacArthur was the only Leafs off-season acquisition to sit out … The game featured three fights … The crowd sang the national anthem … Coca Cola presented a $100,000 cheque to the MLSE Team-Up Foundation during the game … Foligno, on facing the Leafs: “I don’t think that rivalry has lost any flavour at all.”