TORONTO – In the toughest days of his season, as Sam Reinhart endured goal droughts of 10 and 15 games, the Buffalo Sabres winger said he never changed a thing.
Reinhart, 22, kept preparing the same way each day. Thirty-eight games into his third NHL season, he had mustered only five goals and 11 points.
But Reinhart trusted his approach would pay dividends.
Reinhart’s power-play score in the second period of Monday’s 5-2 loss to the Maple Leafs was his 24th goal and 48th point, new career highs. He has compiled 19 goals and 37 points in his last 41 games, transforming his worst offensive season into his best.
“It’s a little nice knowing I prepared the same way, I’ve done the exact same things to get ready and be way more consistent, because obviously it’s been a good stretch,” Reinhart said prior to the tilt inside the Air Canada Centre. “But even when I wasn’t going well, I was still doing the right things to try to make it turn.
“I’m glad I was able to stick with it, because it was pretty tough, to be honest, going through that. It’s nice to be getting a little success and gives you something to build off, another consistent one next year.”
Some players don’t like sharing their personal goals, but Reinhart has no problem acknowledging he wants to score 30 goals next season.
“My mindset is this is what I can do kind of every year and be this kind of player,” the former second overall pick said.
Something, of course, changed on the ice around New Year’s Day, when Reinhart ended his 15-game slump, scoring outdoors in the Winter Classic at Citi Field.
To Reinhart, who had a hat trick in Saturday’s 7-4 win in Nashville, he’s simply been earning more bounces.
“I was putting myself in the same positions,” he said. “For whatever reason, now they’re bouncing off my stick.”
Sabres coach Phil Housley thinks Reinhart’s move to center early this season, which ended in the fall, hurt him. Over the last three months, Housley believes Reinhart has consistently asserted himself around the net, where he’s at his best.
“You can see all the goals he’s scored on the power play, he’s right in front of the goaltender, tipping pucks, creating things in front of the goalie … and he’s been able to fight through and find a puck here and there,” Housley said. “I think that’s the difference in his game and the determination. You get some confidence when you contribute offensively.”
A seething Housley paused before answering the question. He clearly wanted to choose his words carefully while still expressing his anger over the NHL’s decision not to suspended Scott Hartnell.
On Saturday, the Predators forward hit Sabres defenseman Victor Antipin from behind, knocking his head into the glass. The rookie was probably out cold before his body hit the ice.
Antipin will miss the rest of the season after suffering a concussion, broken nose, facial lacerations and losing teeth.
“Well, I do know our player was taken off on a stretcher, has a broken nose, facial lacerations and missing teeth,” Housley said. “So in that respect, I strongly disagree with the NHL decision.
“It’s unfortunate for Victor, because I thought he had a solid game and I don’t believe he’ll be playing the rest of the year. We feel for him.”
Sabres goalie Chad Johnson said Hartnell, 35, has a straightforward job.
“Being a veteran guy, his job is to body check, that’s really all he does,” he said. “I think he knows where he hits guys and where dangerous spots are. I think he knew that was a vulnerable spot for a player, and to hit him high, he knew the impact was going to be all in his neck and head.”
Sabres winger Jason Pominville said something bad might have to happen before the league cracks down on hits like Hartnell’s.
“That was definitely awful, no one wants to see that, everyone was silent in the stands, on the benches, players from their team were asking us how he was doing,” he said.
When the Sabres recalled Matt Tennyson on Monday morning, it appeared they just wanted an extra defenseman for insurance. Nathan Beaulieu was sick, so Josh Gorges played after sitting out three straight games.
But Tennyson wound up playing his first NHL game since Nov. 4. Defense prospect Brendan Guhle has an upper-body injury and is day-to-day. Guhle skated Monday morning.
Housley said the Sabres were just being cautious and he expects Guhle to play Wednesday in Buffalo against Ottawa.
“It’s been one of those things that’s been aggravated,” he said.
Three goals and eight points in three games, including a five-assist outing, earned Sabres center Jack Eichel the NHL’s Third Star honors for the week ending April 1.
Eichel tied the franchise record for assists in one game Saturday.
Vegas center William Karlsson (three goals, nine points) and Arizona goalie Antti Raanta (3-0-0, 1.00 goals-against average) were named the first two stars.
Notes: The Rochester Americans have signed forward Vasily Glotov, 20, to an amateur tryout, the team announced Monday. The Sabres selected the Russian in the seventh round, 190th overall, in 2016. … The Sabres also scratched winger Jordan Nolan. … Housley said goalies Robin Lehner (lower body) and Linus Ullmark (concussion) are still day-to-day.