MONTREAL – Sam Reinhart feels like quite a bit of time had passed since he'd last been around his teammates for a game. The Sabres rookie sustained an upper-body injury on Jan. 20 and missed three games in addition to a five-day break for All-Star Weekend.
Tuesday morning, things were finally back to normal – and not just for him. Reinhart, fellow forward Nicolas Deslauriers and defenseman Josh Gorges – who had all missed varying amounts of time before the break – each participated in the morning skate and will play against the Canadiens.
"I think it was nice to get a couple practices at home after the break and to get on the road and to kind of gel with the guys again," Reinhart said. "It's nice and I know a lot of guys are excited for tonight."
One player who will be especially happy to see Reinhart's inclusion in the lineup is Ryan O'Reilly, who will center a line with Reinhart and Jamie McGinn when the puck drops at 7 p.m. Tuesday night. Sabres coach Dan Bylsma has said often that he structures his lines around forward pairs, and O'Reilly and Reinhart have developed into one of them.
"He's a guy that's very versatile and can play with anyone I think, anyone finds chemistry with him because he's so smart and he sees the game so well," O'Reilly said. "For me, he's so easy to play with.
"I always know he's in the right area, he supports the puck in the right spots, he finds the opener, he creates offense easy that when I'm sharp and I'm on my game it's easy for myself and easy for us to generate."
Whereas Reinhart missed three games and Gorges missed five, Deslauriers has been out of the lineup now for over a month. The key coming off of his first lengthy injury, he said, will be not trying to do too much.
"For myself, I need to keep it simple," Deslauriers said. "Just need to finish my hits, take some shots and just keep the game simple. I've been out for a while and to come back, like I said, just keep it simple."
Deslauriers' physicality is difficult to compensate for – his 102 hits this season are second on the team only to the 104 by Evander Kane, who has played two more games – but it's another role of his that Reinhart says has been missed even more.
"He's so big for our team in so many different ways," he said. "Just because of the guy he is in the room and the way he plays out there, the presence he is. He really keeps us close together throughout the game so he's a big part of the team."
The Sabres' first test coming off the break is a Canadiens team that is 2-7-1 in their last 10 and has fallen from atop the Atlantic Division all the way to fifth place and out of a playoff spot. The last time these two teams met, Montreal was 7-0-0 and won 7-2.
Coinciding with the Canadiens' struggles has been the absence of reigning Vezina and Hart Trophy-winner Carey Price, who has missed 28 games with a lower-body injury.
"You look at the way they started the season and you look at their record now, it's changed dramatically," O'Reilly said. "But that’s the way it goes. It's a long season and you don’t know what happens … We have to be sharp, we can't have casual moments. Against these guys, it's not going to be an easy game. They're desperate right now and that's dangerous to play against."
Robin Lehner, who won his first game of the season in Ottawa last Tuesday, will get the start in net for Buffalo. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Tops Sabres Gamenight on MSG-B and Sportsnet. The game can also be heard live on WGR 550.
88 Jamie McGinn – 90 Ryan O'Reilly – 23 Sam Reinhart
28 Zemgus Girgensons – 15 Jack Eichel – 82 Marcus Foligno
9 Evander Kane – 22 Johan Larsson – 12 Brian Gionta
26 Matt Moulson – 17 David Legwand – 44 Nicolas Deslauriers
4 Josh Gorges – 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
47 Zach Bogosian – 3 Mark Pysyk
29 Jake McCabe – 46 Cody Franson
40 Robin Lehner
31 Chad Johnson