With one assist in his last 12 games and his ice time cut to just over 11 minutes Tuesday against Boston, Sam Reinhart seemed more likely to be headed for the press box than Jack Eichel's wing.
But coach Phil Housley said Thursday he's liked what he's seen from Reinhart of late and that it's time to give him a chance with the Sabres' top creative playmaker. So Reinhart will join Eichel and Zemgus Girgensons on one of the team's two key forward lines for Friday night's visit from the Philadelphia Flyers.
"He's playing well positionally and making some plays down low," Housley said after practice in KeyBank Center. "He just hasn't found the net so he's earned that opportunity to get back up there with Jack."
"That's where I'm most comfortable playing, reading and reacting off each other," Reinhart said. "We're able to talk things out and get familiar."
Reinhart has just five goals and six assists for the season in 34 games and is on a 12-goal pace. He hasn't scored since tallying in back-to-back games against Columbus and Minnesota on Nov. 20 and 22, respectively. The timing of his move up from a stint with Johan Larsson and Jordan Nolan is a tad odd, as Reinhart has just three shots on goal combined over the last four games.
"The last game I felt good," Reinhart insisted off his one-shot performance during Tuesday's 3-0 loss to the Bruins. "I'm just going to keep trying to build off that and hopefully the goals start coming. You can't deal with losing your ice. You can just come the next day and work and I really liked my practice [Wednesday] coming off of it. Just want to keep building off that."
Reinhart had skated Wednesday with Eichel and Evander Kane but Housley rebalanced the lines Thursday, putting Kane with Ryan O'Reilly and Kyle Okposo. Girgensons, who has just four points on the season and only one assist to show for his last 24 games, has done some of the best work of his career with Eichel.
The third line has Jacob Josefson centering Benoit Pouliot and Jason Pominville while Scott Wilson, Johan Larsson, Evan Rodrigues and Jordan Nolan all took turns on the fourth line.
All the juggling shenanigans is certainly justified. The Sabres have the worst offense in the league, with just 72 goals overall in 34 games and just 47 at five-on-five. Reinhart said he wasn't concerned about being a healthy scratch but did admit his continued slump does make the game a mental grind.
"Throughout my career I've always been pretty good at getting away from the game of hockey mentally when I'm away from the rink and using that to my advantage," he said. "But I will be honest with you guys that it's been tough to do that this year through a number of stretches.
"I think I've got to get back to that, be able to move on and get that belief in myself back. I know it's there, I know it's been there. As soon as I find that, I'll start banging those chances in. Even last game they were there and you've got to stick with it."
Housley admitted that Reinhart has been invisible for stretches during this slide but hopes to continue to see the 22-year-old battle to find the net again.
"When we've gone through this stretch of games where we said we were going in a good direction, I didn't feel he was going in a great direction with his production," Housley said. "Now that we've made some changes to try to find good line combinations ... When you lose a game or two, you try to change things and keep it fresh. The result of him being put up there with Jack and 'Z' today is from what he brought the last two games."