The three-goal outburst for the Sabres in the second period against Calgary on Monday night proved to be a sigh of relief not only for a team that had been struggling to score as a whole, but for individual players who have been expected to carry the weight in the absence of Ryan O'Reilly and Jack Eichel. Kyle Okposo, for example, had gone seven games without a goal before finally breaking through against the Flames.
To that end, Sam Reinhart was no exception. His two-assist performance Monday was a departure from a seven-game stretch in which he only tallied one point, but that drought wasn't for a lack of opportunities. Reinhart had created multiple scoring chances in front of the net both against Tampa Bay on Thursday and Pittsburgh on Saturday that simply weren't finding their way in.
Reinhart knew he was doing the right things offensively in those games, and the fact the puck finally found its way in was a bit of validation.
"I don't think I felt much different," Reinhart said. "Obviously a couple go in but I think I've been creating chances as it is. I'm not reviewing that game any different than I have been, I've been feeling pretty confident and feeling like I've been playing well."
His assists on Monday were evidence of his passing ability. His first came on the power play, when he split two defenders with a pass from the low circle to find Okposo in the slot. Then, with the Sabres in desperate need of a goal in the third period, it was Reinhart who won a battle along the boards, deked around a defender and made a perfect pass to free up Marcus Foligno alone at the net-front.
Video: CGY@BUF: Foligno stays with the play, slides one home
Foligno has played two games with Reinhart as his centerman, and that passing ability - not only the ability to make the pass, but the knowledge of where to place it - is what's stood out the most.
"I think just the way he's a heads up player, always looking to kind to dish the puck," Foligno said. "He's a really, really smart player where he comes through laying pucks into soft areas for us to skate onto so yeah, I think he's just a heads-up player. He kind of has that hockey sense where he knows guys are around him or even behind him so for my job and [Brian] Gionta's job it's just to get open and obviously create as much space as we can for him."
Where Reinhart does believe he has improved in recent games at the center position is in the defensive zone, which in turn has led to more opportunities on offense. Against Pittsburgh on Saturday, Reinhart was matched up defensively with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in a tight game and rose to the occasion. His boxing out of Crosby on the play below likely prevented a game-tying goal.
"There's no question these last two games have been his best at center," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. "The game against Pittsburgh, he was out there against Crosby and Malkin but Crosby in particular in the third period. I thought it was his best game of battling and playing defensively. He was stuck up against Crosby a couple of times and out-battled him.
"I thought it was his best couple games at center and last night, at least for the first half of the game, he was one the positive side of winning faceoffs and helped us out in that regard. I don't want to use the word, but I think he's really kind of looked comfortable and settled in playing the center position there."
It remains to be seen how Reinhart will be used once O'Reilly and Eichel return. The Sabres are hopeful for O'Reilly to join the lineup later this week, perhaps even against Detroit on Wednesday, and Bylsma has said that Eichel's rehabilitation from a high-ankle sprain has been progressing well. Reinhart played well last season primarily on the wing, first with O'Reilly and then with Eichel. Even if he does return to playing that position, his last two games are evidence of his ability to provide depth at center going forward.
O'Reilly "looks good" at practice
Only a handful of players took the ice for an optional skate on Tuesday, but O'Reilly was once again one of them as he continues to work his way back from an oblique injury. O'Reilly said Monday that he hopes to return to the lineup against the Red Wings on Wednesday, and his skating session appeared to be a positive step in that direction.
"We tested him a couple different ways with some faceoffs and battle drills there," Bylsma said. "I thought he shot the puck particularly well if that's any indication. I thought he looked pretty good out there today."
Foligno keeps scoring when it counts
Foligno has four goals this season, and three of them have been scored in response shortly after a goal was scored by a Sabres' opponent. That was the case Monday, when he squeezed a backhand shot beneath the pad of Flames goalie Brian Elliott to restore Buffalo's two-goal lead in the third period.
Not even two minutes prior, Calgary had scored to make it a one-goal game with 19:38 still left to play.
"It stung a little bit," he said. "But we knew we had to keep going and keep pushing and obviously getting that fourth goal was huge, quickly after their goal too. It kind of took the momentum out of their sails and it slowed down the game a little bit more and settled us down a lot."
Foligno scored in a similar situation in the third period of Buffalo's game in Calgary on Oct. 18. In that game, the Flames tied the goal early in the third period thanks to a turnover by Foligno off a referee's skate in the defensive zone. Foligno came out on his next shift and sniped a goal to regain the lead.
"I think maturity's one thing," Foligno said. "I think not getting down on a bad play or when you're not having momentum going your way or puck luck in that sense, staying with it staying the course getting a little bit ticked off to get some revenge on the bad play that was a mistake that happened."
Meanwhile, it's been a tough couple of games for Foligno physically. He left the game for concussion protocol after taking a hard hit in the boards on Saturday, but returned to the ice. Then he left again in the final seconds of regulation when he blocked a hard shot from point-blank range to prevent Pittsburgh from getting the puck to the net in a tie game.
On Monday, Foligno was hit in the head by Matthew Tkachuk on a play that sent Tkachuk to box with a minor penalty.
"It is what it is," he said. "We walked away with two wins and I'll keep taking a beaten if we keep winning."
A conversation with Bob Woods
Brian Duff caught up with assistant coach Bob Woods about the Sabres' recent power-play success, which you can find below in Tuesday's Sabres in :90.
Video: Sabres in :90 (11/22/16)
Going for three
The Sabres will look to close their homestand with a third-straight win when they host the Detroit Red Wings at KeyBank Center on Wednesday night. Individual tickets and Family Packs are still available and can be found here.
Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with the TOPS Sabres Pregame Show on MSG-B, or you can listen live on WGR 550. The puck drops at 7 p.m.