Before Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart even left the house, they knew it was going to be a good day. They were going to play on the same line.
“We’ve wanted to be moved back together,” Reinhart said Monday. “We were excited yesterday in practice. We were excited this morning coming to the rink.”
It showed. The roommates combined for two goals and three points as the Sabres pounced on Dallas for a 4-1 victory. Eichel scored twice and could have had at least four on a career-high 10 shots. Reinhart set him up for the best ones.
“It’s nice to be back playing with him,” Eichel said in KeyBank Center. “We’re two people who want to be out there together. We know that if we get each other the puck and get open it’s going to come back.
“I’m just happy to be back with him, and it’s nice to play with the puck a little bit in their zone. We just want to keep going.”
They should get a chance right away. Buffalo will visit Toronto on Tuesday, and it will be the first time Eichel faces his fellow young American star, Auston Matthews.
“It’s a good test for us,” Eichel said. “Toronto’s been obviously really hot lately, so we’ve just got to go up there and play similar to the way we did tonight, and we should be successful.”
The pairing of Eichel and Reinhart has been teased a few times the last couple of weeks. They’ve gotten a shift here and there, and they’ve practiced together a few times. Finally, with the recall of center Cal O’Reilly, Sabres coach Dan Bylsma shifted Reinhart from the middle to right wing.
It paid off immediately. Eichel attempted seven shots in the first period, with Reinhart feeding him for point-blank chances that Stars goaltender Kari Lehtonen turned away.
Eichel deserved to be on the score sheet – “Most definitely,” Bylsma said – and the center got there in the second period to make it 3-1. Reinhart earned the assist after taking two whacks at a goal.
“The second whack came back at me, and I know he’s always going to be in that soft area,” Reinhart said of the side of the crease. “It’s something we’ve all kind of talked about, so he put himself in a good position to put that in.”
Eichel and Reinhart instinctively know how to find each other when things are clicking. They were clicking Monday while playing with left wing Marcus Foligno.
“We had our fair share” of chances, Reinhart said. “The three of us like playing together. We know if we keep creating like that we’re going to get more and more, and the opportunities will be there for us.
“I liked the effort, and the key for the three of us is to stick with it, not get too frustrated and keep looking for each other out there.”
The line tested Lehtonen 14 times while attempting 21 shots. It was an especially important day for Eichel, who had no goals and one assist during the previous four games. He added his second goal of the afternoon with 9.3 seconds left.
“I told myself if I came out here and shot the puck a lot I think I’d get one,” Eichel said. “The past few games just trying to be a little too cute on opportunities that I could fire it, and you’re not going to score unless you shoot it. Get rewarded with an empty-netter, which is kind of nice, and a tap-in on a great play from Rhino.”
Reinhart’s assist gave him 19 in 43 games, the same total he put up in 79 games last year.
“With his confidence playing with the puck, he’s a lot more physical, I think,” Eichel said. “Not as much without the puck, but with it. He’s been making it harder on the opposing team to take it away from him.”
Eichel has 10 goals in 22 games. That works out to 0.45 goals per outing, which ranks tied for 11th in the NHL. The Maple Leafs’ Matthews ranks fourth at 0.51 with 21 goals in 41 games.
The rookie has helped the Leafs become a league-wide surprise. They are 8-1-1 in their last 10 games and 20-13-8 overall, good enough for a playoff spot.
“They’re been hot, they’ve been producing,” Reinhart said. “It’s going to be a challenge for us going in there, and we’re all looking forward to that opportunity.”