Thursday, December 21, 2017

Sam Reinhart bumped up to the Eichel/Kane line at practice

Published by, 12-20-2017

Buffalo forward Sam Reinhart was, for all intents and purposes, benched in last night's 3-0 loss to the Boston Bruins. Reinhart got on the ice at the 1:22 mark of the third period and skated a one-minute shift, then was on the ice again at the 7:18 mark. Head coach Phil Housley put him on the ice again at 12:09, but skated a mere two seconds as Boston goalie Anton Khudobin stopped a Zach Bogosian shot and they went to a commercial break.

To say that Reinhart has been having a tough time this season would be an understatement. He has 11 points (5+6) in 34 games, with seven of those points (2+5,) coming on the powerplay and he's a minus-12 on the year. Housley thought Reinhart could play center, his natural position, but that was abandoned and since then he's been moved up and down the lineup. His ice-time had been in the 15-18 minute range, but in the last eight games Reinhart has eclipsed the 15-minute mark once (15:01,) has one assist and is a minus-4. He skated 11:05 against Boston last night and was only on the ice in for 9:09 in a 4-2 Sabres win over the Avalanche.

After last night's (lack of) performance and his virtual benching, it wouldn't have been surprising to see him in the press box so he could get a better look away from the ice. But, alas, it was not so today at practice according to reports from the rink. Housley had Reinhart on Jack Eichel's right wing in preparation for Friday's home tilt against the Philadelphia Flyers. It was a line that former bench boss Dan Bylsma used last year quite often and one that they had a decent amount of success with.

Housley seemed determined to fit Reinhart into the center slot, but when it became clear that it wasn't working out as planned he moved the former second-overall pick back to the position he played last year. Although Reinhart did play with Eichel and Kane, it wasn't for long and he often found himself moving up and down between the 2nd and 4th right wing slots, spending most of the time on the third line.

Where this leads is still to be determined. In fact, things could change between now and Friday and Reinhart could be somewhere else.

The Sabres have had a lot of trouble on offense this season. Housley's team has basically been trying to learn to play hockey again, this time in a much faster NHL. It's been a slow process, but there are signs that they're starting to get a feel for what Housley wants in today's NHL. We saw that in the first period last night, as we've seen often over the last few weeks. However, they've been unable to sustain that into the middle-latter stages of the game.

Housley attributes it to the team abandoning the game-plan and a lot of that has to do with frustration. This team has generally been controlling possession and getting pucks to the net, but they're having a bear of a time scoring. Last night they threw 17 shots on net in the first period against the Bruins only come away empty. From there they get frustrated and begin to get away from how they were playing with many trying to do it all themselves. That leads to breakdowns and inevitably a deficit to overcome. At time they're lucky if it's just a one-goal deficit as on far too many occasions, one goal by the opposition has opened up the floodgates.

Having said that about the players, Housley and his staff need to shoulder some of the blame for what's transpired. We're not sure why the first-year coach tinkered with the lineup but he changed up the lines that had scored four goals the previous game. The only line that remained the same from the Carolina game to the Boston game was the Eichel/Kane/Jason Pominville line. All the rest were different including him moving Evan Rodrigues to the wing, Zemgus Girgensons down two lines and putting Scott Wilson in the press box.

They also need to take responsibility for destroying the confidence of last year's best powerplay. Buffalo's powerplay kept them afloat last season and this year they're second-worst in the league. The talent is still there, but the confidence is not.

Confidence is lacking with this club as any smidgen of it has been beaten out of them through the course of 26 total losses in 34 games. That's why it was a curious move on Housley's part to make major changes to a lineup that presumably was confident after scoring four goals, which is a rarity for this team.

Reinhart seems to be suffering under the weight of his ineffectiveness this season and to the casual eye, it doesn't seem as if he's doing anything extra to get him through this rough stretch. Why Housley placed him on the top line is rather quizzical, but here's how he put it to the gathered media after practice today.

"When you're not winning – like I've said before – we're going to mix things up and change our lines, try to find a winning formula," coach Phil Housley said in KeyBank Center (via Jon Vogl, The Buffalo News.) "Just with Sam, there's a different expectation with him. He's proven he can provide points and production offensively, and he's getting an opportunity.

"He's got to consider it more of a challenge. He's trying to find his game," Housley said. "I don't think you can focus on what has happened in the past. I think you can learn from it, move forward and try to get better."

The lines and pairings for today's practice:




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