Now and then, Sam Reinhart is asked what he thinks about when he's out on the ice. The ideal answer, he said, is actually to have no answer at all.
"If I can tell you, that's probably not a good thing in my game," Reinhart said. "I'm just going out and playing and reading and reacting. The game's so fast that that's the way you've got to play. That's the way I play best."
It's that type of simplicity, combined with renewed confidence, that's helped Reinhart establish one of the most productive stretches of his young career since the beginning of January. He's scored 23 points (9+14) in 22 games dating back to Jan. 18th, tied for 15th in the NHL during that span.
Reinhart only scored 11 points in 38 games prior to his goal at the Winter Classic on Jan. 1. He said after a three-point night against the New York Islanders on Feb. 8 that nothing had changed preparation-wise, but admitted on Monday that he's been thinking less during games as of late.
The result, said linemate Ryan O'Reilly, has been a player who's been in command in all aspects of his game.
"I think he's just confident," O'Reilly said. "He's trusting himself and impacting the game. He's been huge, one of our best players, and for me he makes my job so much easier. He's smart with the puck and just away from the puck … just his reads on stuff, the puck seems to find him and he's making plays off it."
Video: Sabres Now (3/6/18)
It should come as no surprise, but a lot of those plays have come below the dots in the offensive zone, be it on quick feeds from around or behind the net or deflections in front of the goaltender. In fact, six of the nine goals he's scored during his hot streak have come on either tips or rebounds.
Reinhart said he had never played the net-front position on the power play prior to his rookie year in 2015-16, when he first established himself as a net-front presence. Since then, it's become an essential part of his game both on the power play and at even strength.
It wasn't an intentional point of emphasis, he insists. Rather, it crept into his game naturally.
"It's so hard to score goals in this league," Reinhart said. "The puck's going to go there eventually. Maybe I just found that out early."
Video: TOR@BUF: Reinhart tips shot past Andersen for PPG
He crashed the net often against Toronto on Monday, scoring on a tip of a Rasmus Ristolainen shot during a power play early in the contest and later having multiple run-ins with Maples Leafs goalie Frederick Andersen as the result of his presence in the crease.
Phil Housley said after that game that Reinhart's recent productivity stemmed from his willingness to "pay a price" to get to scoring areas. An example of that price can be found during a power play against Dallas on Jan. 20. Reinhart is knocked to the ice by Dallas defenders ...
... But he re-establishes himself and scores nonetheless.
Video: DAL@BUF: Ristolainen hits milestone on Reinhart's PPG
"Guys are big and strong in this league," Reinhart said. "You're going to get knocked down. But I think it's easier offensively getting to the net than protecting it. It's always tough defending and having to watch for the puck. I mean, I know where guys are going to be putting it for the most part so it's easy reacting off that."
That said, Reinhart thought the effort to get in front of the net had been there earlier this season as well. His recent opportunities down low, he said, are more likely a product of better play along the boards and in the neutral zone. His coach added the defensive zone to that list as well.
"He's just determined right now," Housley said. "I think a lot of it just has to do with his confidence. Once you start getting some offensive production, you start feeling better about yourself. But the thing I've really liked is the defensive awareness. He's a player you can trust in your own zone. He's making those good little plays to get pucks out and right now his instincts are taking over."
With 16 games remaining, Reinhart can still surpass the career-high 47 points he scored last season if he maintains his point-per-game pace, a mark that would have seemed unlikely just two months ago. His goal is to continue learning from his current run, beginning when the Sabres host Calgary on Wednesday.
"Of course I'm going to," he said. "That's something we're trying to do here. Everyone's trying to do that. We have another chance tomorrow against a team that's fighting for a playoff spot and in a position that we want to put ourselves in as soon as possible."