BUFFALO – Points-wise, Sabres winger Sam Reinhart began Thursday’s 4-3 win against the Montreal Canadiens enjoying the best nine-game start of his career.
Of course, Reinhart, 22, hadn’t exactly experienced a rollicking October before his first goal this season tied Thursday’s contest at 13:07 into the third period. So far, he has six points.
Fresh off a 25-goal, 50-point campaign in which he scored 18 goals and 37 points over the final 38 games, the first few weeks of his fourth NHL season have been a bit disappointing.
Still, Reinhart looks close to busting out. He had two power-play assists in Sunday’s 4-2 win in Anaheim. Meanwhile, he and his new linemates, center Vladimir Sobotka and Conor Sheary, have been generating scoring opportunities since Sabres coach Phil Housley put them together for Saturday’s 5-1 win in Los Angeles.
“In our last couple games when that line was put together, they’ve had some really quality offensive zone time,” Housley said Thursday morning inside KeyBank Center. “(Reinhart’s) had some really good looks, which in turn, if he keeps getting, they’re going to fall in.
“But I like where his game is right now.”
Hours later, Reinhart redirected defenseman Jake McCabe’s pass from the left circle in front of goalie Antti Niemi. Sheary created the goal by finding McCabe through traffic from the right point.
“I think Shears passed it through about three people,” McCabe said. “It’s a big goal. I’m happy for Sammy, he’s always in front of the net. He could’ve easily had five by now, the post hasn’t been his friend.”
Reinhart acknowledged his lack of offense frustrated him before last weekend.
“Last game, those chances definitely came back in numbers,” said Reinhart, who pumped three shots on goal against the Ducks. “I’m just going to stick with it. I think when the first one’s going in, hopefully the flood gates open a little bit.”
Sticking to what has made him successful in the past buoyed Reinhart last season. As he struggled mightily – he mustered only two goals and five points in the first 17 contests – he said he never doubted his talents and kept doing the same things.
“It’s easier to do the things preparation-wise when things are going well,” said Reinhart, who signed a two-year, $7.3 million contract in training camp. “It’s harder to keep those things up when things are going poorly or things aren’t going so well. That’s something I definitely look at to keep the preparation the same … throughout the highs and lows.”
Reinhart began the season playing beside Jack Eichel, his regular center. Sobotka, whose career-high point total is just 33, might seem like an odd choice to pivot Reinhart. But the new linemates meshed right away, generating offensive zone time over the weekend.
“We’ve all experienced a little bit more zone time,” Reinhart said. “I think that’s translated to everyone. Everyone’s kind of relaxing a little bit, getting to know their new linemates, and I think a big part of our game is our offensive zone time.
“We’re just keeping the puck on our stick a little bit longer and taking advantage of that time and space we’re creating for each other.”
Housley hinted winger Tage Thompson, a healthy scratch Thursday for the third straight game, could be sent to the AHL soon. Thompson, 20, has zero points in seven games.
“We’ll have more of an evaluation what his situation’s going to be like tomorrow,” Housley said. “I just think giving him a different perspective, and I know we need him to be playing games and getting some ice time, but right now, with where we are at as a team and winning two games, obviously you’re not going to change your lineup.
“There’s some good cohesiveness within our group. But we know he’s a big part of our team and our future. He will get an opportunity to get back in the lineup shortly.”
The Sabres play a road game Saturday in Columbus. The Rochester Americans, meanwhile, play tonight and Saturday at home.
The Sabres only held one morning skate while going 3-2 on their recent five-game road trip. Circumstances – two afternoon games and a 6 p.m. start – played a factor in that. Housley also had a meeting instead of a skate last Thursday in San Jose.
They lost 4-1 on Oct. 16 in Vegas, the only game they held a morning skate.
The Sabres have examined how they’ve performed without a morning skate.
“Most of our wins we haven’t had a pregame skate,” Housley said. “The schedule’s going to dictate that.”
Housley held a skate Thursday so the Sabres, who hadn’t played at home since Oct. 11, could get back in a routine.