VANCOUVER – Sam Reinhart already had his game face on when talking to a reporter two hours before Monday night’s game between the Sabres and Vancouver Canucks in Rogers Arena.
The Sabres were focused on bouncing back from their struggles Sunday in Edmonton and it took some nudging, but Reinhart admitted this game has been circled on his calendar for a while.
It was Reinhart’s first career appearance in his hometown, in the city where he grew up and played minor hockey.
“I’ve thought about it but you try to treat it like any other game. You have to,” Reinhart said. “You want to do well and have success and that’s how I’ll think about it. I definitely watched them more than any other team. It was Vancouver and Calgary for sure.”
Reinhart’s parents were among the family and friends at the game. His father, Paul, was a longtime NHL defenseman who played eight seasons in Calgary and his final two in Vancouver.
Reinhart grew up in West Vancouver and played midget hockey for the Vancouver Northwest Giants. He was also a gold medalist in the 2011 Canada Winter Games playing for British Columbia. He played his junior hockey in Kootenay, about 500 miles east of here.
“I think you’re energized when you go back home for games, whether you’re young or old,” said coach Dan Bylsma. “I don’t think I’m going to be too attentive to it. I’ll give him a chance to be out there and perform early on in this game. It’s a good thing, should be an exciting thing for him.”
The Sabres entered the game looking to bounce back from Sunday’s 4-2 loss to the Oilers, a game that saw them dig a 3-1 hole in the first period.
“We talked about having a quick turnaround,” Reinhart said. “That’s kind of the best-case scenario for our team to regroup and rebound. Our mindset has been on ourselves every game we’ve played. It’s going to stay that way no matter what is going on with Vancouver. We feel if we’re playing our best, we can match up against anyone.”
As Reinhart noted, the Canucks entered the game in complete crisis mode. They came into play Monday 0-3-2 in their last five games, 2-7-3 in their last 12 and 3-9-4 in their last 16. Their 9-11-8 overall record had them tied with Toronto for the fewest wins in the NHL.
After Saturday’s 4-0 stinker here against Boston, captain Henrik Sedin criticized his team by saying they had become too easy to play against. The Canucks had just five goals in their last five games.
“You go through these tough times throughout your career, throughout games and parts of season,” veteran winger Daniel Sedin said here Monday. “You have to find a way to work through them. It’s a lot easier if you try to come to the rink and have fun.”
“Losing is something that wears out on you and takes a little bit of the fun out of coming to the rink,” said coach Willie Desjardins. “It starts to become more like work. You have to grind through it. The only way to do it is to get a few wins and that takes care of itself. We need to get our game back.”
“Right now maybe we’re squeezing the stick too tight and it’s tough to play that way,” Daniel Sedin said. “Tonight it’s about coming to the rink with a lot of energy. It’s a game. You can’t look at it as pressure.”
Even at age 35, the Sedins continue to drive the way for the Canucks. Daniel Sedin entered Monday leading them in scoring with 29 points (12-17) while Henrik Sedin was at 8-18-26. No other Canuck was over 20 points.
For the first time since he was called up from Rochester for the third game of the season, defenseman Jake McCabe was a healthy scratch for Monday’s game. Although he had an even rating, McCabe struggled mightily Sunday in Edmonton, fumbling the puck on several possessions. He played just 13 minutes, 22 seconds, his lowest ice time total since his season debut Oct. 12 vs. Columbus.
“He most definitely fought it,” Bylsma said. “He fought the puck more than a bit. But he wasn’t the only guy that was fighting it. Edmonton came at us with a lot of speed and pressured us. Jake had a tough time dealing with that and it was evident in the game.”
Mike Weber returned to the lineup in McCabe’s place, playing for the first time since the Sabres’ previous meeting with the Canucks on Nov. 7. He suffered a lower-body injury in that game and had missed the last 13 games. Weber, however, has been ready to play for about two weeks and simply had to bid his time waiting his turn.
Cal O’Reilly was the healthy scratch at forward for the second straight game. Zemgus Girgensons played with a full face shield after taking a puck to the face Sunday and needing 12 stitches to close his wounds.
St. Cloud State defenseman Will Borgen, the Sabres’ fourth-round pick in June, was named to Team USA’s training camp roster for the World Junior Championships in Finland. Borgen will head to training camp next week in Boston. Borgen has seven assists and a plus-5 rating in the first 16 games of his freshman season for St. Cloud State.
Winger Vaclav Karabacek, a 2014 second-rounder of the Sabres, has been named to the training roster for the Czech Republic entry. Karabacek was a late scratch from the Czech team for last year’s tourney in Montreal and Toronto, as he was one of the last cuts reportedly for oversleeping and missing the start of a team video session.
Karabacek has eight goals and eight assists this year in 23 games for Baie-Comeau of the Quebec League.
As part of the 20th anniversary of their home rink, the Canucks honored their “West Coast Express” line in pregame ceremonies. Markus Naslund, Todd Bertuzzi and Brendan Morrison, who become offensive forces here in 2002, all spoke to the team.
“The neat thing is every one of them tried to say something that would help our team right now,” Desjardins said. “Their message was they all knew exactly where we were at as a team and had all gone through slumps before. ... Everyone tried to say, ‘Hey, things will work out and you’ve got to enjoy yourselves coming to the rink’ so it was nice they cared about the current team.”