Phoenix in January is not a hard sell.
Perhaps that’s part of the reason why the Buffalo Sabres have chosen to make it part of this year’s annual “parents trip.”
The Sabres departed Sunday morning for sunny Arizona, where they were greeted by temperatures in the upper 60s upon arrival. No doubt, they were feeling good following perhaps their best performance of the season – a 4-1 win over the NHL-leading Washington Capitals on Saturday night.
Buffalo will look to win for the fourth time in five games Monday night against the Coyotes (9 p.m., MSG, Radio 550 AM). They’ll have some special guests in attendance, as each player can bring their mom or dad on the road trip – which also stops in Colorado on Wednesday – continuing a tradition that has become an annual occurrence across the NHL.
“It’s a rare time to acknowledge and give back to your parents for everything they’ve done and everything they continue to do for you as a person and as a player,” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. “I find you get some of your most inspired hockey when you’re giving that back to your parents on these trips.”
Rookies Sam Reinhart and Jack Eichel will be taking part in the trip for the first time. Reinhart brought him mom, Theresa, while Eichel brought his dad, Bob.
“It’s exciting, having my dad be able to come on the trip,” Eichel said. “It’ll be a new experience for us. It’s not a bad spot to be going, either, so he really can’t complain.
“It’s a great time to think about everything they’ve done for you, on a trip like this.”
The Sabres’ road schedule is not overly taxing. The team does not have any trips longer than three games. But they are in a stretch of eight games in 14 days, so any kind of boost that comes with having mom or dad in the crowd is welcome.
“That frequency of games, we’re playing a lot more back-to-backs, or four games in a week, you do need to … get up mentally and physically for all the games,” Eichel said.
Theresa Reinhart knows better than most parents on the trip what life on the road is like. Her husband, Paul, spent 11 seasons in the NHL, while her three sons – Sam, Max and Griffin – have all also played in the league.
“She’s been a hockey mom all my life,” Sam Reinhart said. “I know she’s looking forward to it. It’ll be a fun time.”
If Bylsma’s theory on inspired hockey with parents in attendance is correct, it could be a boost for Eichel, who has been held to just one assist in his last five games. Reinhart, meanwhile, has been held without a goal in the last three games since recording his first career hat trick Jan. 10 at Winnipeg.
“The growth of Sam has been immense in the first four months of his career,” Bylsma said. “I think right now we’re seeing maybe a little dip in it. We’re going through a lot of hockey … but where he’s come from, it’s been huge strides in his game.”
Reinhart has 20 points, tied for fourth on the team. Eichel’s 27 ranks third, as does his 13 goals behind Ryan O’Reilly’s team-leading 17 goals and 38 points.
Like Eichel, O’Reilly hasn’t scored a goal in the Sabres’ last four games, but Buffalo is 3-1 in that time in large part because the team is finally starting to get some scoring from other players on the roster.
Against Washington on Saturday, recent call-ups Phil Varone and Tim Schaller gave Buffalo a 2-0 lead in the first period.
“Getting goals from Varone and Schaller, no one would have taken that bet,” Bylsma said. “To get positive results we leaned on O’Reilly and Jack Eichel to get us goals, and our last few wins have come with our team scoring.”
In addition to Varone and Schaller, captain Brian Gionta, winger Evander Kane, veteran forward David Legwand and defensemen Rasmus Ristolainen and Cody Franson also have goals in Buffalo’s last three games.
If that kind of production continues, the Sabres will have a good chance of extending their winning streak in Arizona to six games.
And give their parents something to smile about.