BUFFALO – When the puck slid back to the point late in Tuesday’s second period, Sabres winger Sam Reinhart moved from the left circle into the slot and began jockeying for position with Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Ron Hainsey.
As defensemen Nathan Beaulieu and Rasmus Ristolainen passed the puck to each other, Reinhart kept battling Hainsey, moving from one side to the other.
Finally, with Reinhart still in the slot and winger Jeff Skinner behind him, Beaulieu unleashed a wrist shot from the left point.
Reinhart reached out and deflected the puck by goalie Frederik Andersen, his fourth consecutive game with a goal and the Sabres’ first score in their 4-3 overtime loss.
“That kind of defines what Sammy is around the net,” Beaulieu said Friday.
Reinhart, 23, is enjoying a career-long goal-scoring streak entering this afternoon’s tilt against the Philadelphia Flyers inside KeyBank Center.
Not surprisingly, the former second overall pick has done most of his damage around the crease, showcasing why he’s one of the NHL’s best net-front presences.
Still, fresh off a monster second half in 2017-18 – he compiled 18 goals and 37 points over the final 38 games – Reinhart struggled to score goals earlier this season. He finally netted his first in the 10th game and only had two through 16 contests.
“It’s funny, you’re doing the right things, you’re not getting rewarded and things aren’t going in for you,” Sabres coach Phil Housley said. “But he’s really stuck to his game. That’s going to the net, making those plays in tight areas, finding a way to tip a puck or get a shot off in tight.”
Now, Reinhart has caught fire, compiling six goals and 10 points in the last eight tilts. While he has scored five times during his four-game run, the Sabres are 0-2-2.
“They started to fall, then you build confidence, and right now, he’s a very confident player,” Housley said.
Reinhart carries so much confidence he rarely changes during his slumps. Instead, he simply sticks to what made him successful in the past.
“If you look at the start, my opportunities were really there,” Reinhart said. “Not much changes, to be honest. But … a couple go in the net and you start holding onto the puck a little bit longer, start making more plays. …
“At the start of the year they weren’t going in. I think looking back, the first couple games I’ve had more opportunities than I’ve had the last couple, but for whatever reason they’ve gone (in).”
So far, Reinhart has compiled eight goals and 24 points in 29 games, a 23-goal, 68-point pace over a full season. He set career highs with 25 goals and 50 points last season.
“You get a couple bounces and it doesn’t hurt the confidence,” Reinhart said. “You got to take advantage when they come. Over a long season, you’re going to go through times where it doesn’t go in the net as much for you.
Reinhart has already registered 16 assists, putting him on pace for a career-high 45.
“I think I was creating a lot, both for myself and my linemates, when the puck wasn’t in the net for myself,” said Reinhart, who has been playing with Skinner and top center Jack Eichel.
Two months into his fourth season, Reinhart’s increased playmaking is a sign of growth. So is the “overall consistency” he said he possesses.
“As you gain experience, you learn how to prepare yourself for the grind that much better,” Reinhart said. “On a nightly basis I’ve felt that much better about my legs, my mind and kind of everything wrapped around. I think that’s really helped my consistency.”
That all probably contributes to a greater scoring prowess around the net.
“It’s all positioning, reading the play,” Reinhart said of what makes him effective in the so-called dirty area. “I’ll tell you, (Skinner) will tell you, a lot of time it’s bounces, reading the bounces and getting a little bit of puck luck.
“It’s a really fine line in this league of getting an empty-net tap in (and) the puck getting turned over and going the other way.”