Sam Reinhart knows that days like Saturday will help him and the Sabres in the long run. That does nothing, however, to ease the pain of the present.
Buffalo’s fourth straight loss was a bitter one. The team twice came back to tie Detroit and controlled play in much of the matinee. They still trudged out of First Niagara Center with a 4-3 loss as Tomas Tatar snapped a tie and put the Sabres away for good with 2:50 remaining.
“Good teams find a way to win, and if we want to be one of them we’re going to have to find ways to win in situations like that,” Reinhart said. “We can learn a lot from a team like that with a lot of experience. They just kind of bear down and stick with it right to the end.
“Obviously, we’re learning every day. We’re sometimes there where we can battle and bear down late when it’s close, but consistency with that is something we’re going to work on and keep learning from.”
As Reinhart and Jack Eichel near the midway point of their rookie seasons, the lessons come almost daily. Many of them are rough ones as Buffalo sits near the bottom of the NHL with a 15-20-4 record.
“We would have liked to get a point or anything out of this game because we think we played a good game,” Eichel said. “It’s a tough one to swallow. You think you play a good game and then they score one with three minutes left to win it.
“We need to figure out a way to get over that hump.”
While the lessons about losing are coming lately, it’s also clear the No. 2 overall picks are learning what it takes to succeed.
Eichel scored twice to tie the Red Wings’ Dylan Larkin for first among rookies with 13 goals. Eichel is fourth in rookie scoring with 25 points. Reinhart also scored, moving to seventh among first-year players in goals (seven) and points (16).
“Just preparing for games, I think that’s super important,” Eichel said. “I’m starting to get better at it. I’m starting to understand the game a little bit better.”
The fans can only hope Eichel is just starting to understand the game. He and Ryan O’Reilly have essentially carried the offense during the last 10 games, combining to score 10 of Buffalo’s 21 goals.
Eichel has four goals, seven assists and 11 points in the last seven games. He pulled the Sabres within 2-1 on a pinpoint power-play shot through Jamie McGinn’s screen. He scored on a breakaway just 2:01 later to tie it.
“He’s good when he gets his open ice and has time,” Detroit captain Henrik Zetterberg said. “It was a nice shot there on the power play.”
As usual, Reinhart scored by being in the right place. Standing at the top of the crease, he took a whack at the rebound of Rasmus Ristolainen’s shot and got credit for the goal after the Red Wings’ Tomas Nosek inadvertently put the puck in his own net.
The goal ended a 10-game drought for Reinhart.
“That’s one I’ll take when it’s been awhile,” he said.
Reinhart’s biggest lesson this season is bringing intensity to every shift. He did well during a 12-game run between Thanksgiving and Christmas, recording four goals and eight points to earn more minutes, but he and coach Dan Bylsma have noticed a dip in intensity since the recent holiday break.
“When I’m playing my best like I was right before Christmas, that’s the main reason why,” Reinhart said. “I can definitely keep working on that and keep getting back to that.
“It’s tough not to get frustrated. It’s a long year and you’re going to go through spurts like that where things aren’t quite going your way. The chances have been there, so it’s made it a little easier to kind of stick with it. Hopefully, that opens things up now.”
The Sabres, who just completed four games in six days, will take Sunday off to rest. They’ll try to learn from their latest lesson when they practice Monday and host Florida on Tuesday.
“We’re in a process of developing our team,” Bylsma said. “In a number of situations, we’re right there. It is a fine line. It is again tonight winning or losing hockey games.
“That’s where we have to develop. That’s where we have to grow as a team and get better.”