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Sabres notebook: Reinhart’s positioning hits the spot

With all the postgame talk about the controversial Brad Marchand penalty shot goal that cost the Buffalo Sabres a win Saturday in Boston, it was easy to overlook another milestone on the burgeoning resume of winger Sam Reinhart.

The rookie posted the lone goal in the Sabres’ 2-1 overtime loss and it gave him goals in consecutive games for the first time in his NHL career. Reinhart’s second-period tally was his 14th goal of the season, four shy of the NHL rookie lead shared by Detroit’s Dylan Larkin and Chicago’s Artemi Panarin. Fellow Buffalo rookie Jack Eichel is third with 16.

Reinhart, taken No. 2 overall in the 2014 draft, is tied on the goal chart with Arizona’s Anthony Duclair and Calgary’s Sam Bennett, who was selected by the Flames two choices after Reinhart went to Buffalo.

The Sabres have been impressed by the way Reinhart has improved his shot this season to get on a 22-goal pace but what has always keyed his game has been his positioning and on-ice awareness.

Reinhart’s goal was yet another display of the way he uses all kinds of means on the ice to create better positioning.

Reinhart helped get the puck deep in the Boston zone and then curled behind the net as Ryan O’Reilly got it to Jamie McGinn. Tuukka Rask made a save on McGinn but left a rebound to his left. Reinhart was hanging low beyond the goal line and actually using the net to create more space between himself and Boston defenseman Zdeno Chara.

With the puck available, Reinhart darted from beyond the line and swept home a backhander past Rask before Chara could corral the puck.

O’Reilly made “a nice play to get in and create space for himself,” Reinhart said. “With those two being so smart, I just try to put myself in the right spots. The puck found me there on the side of the net.”

Reinhart returned Wednesday in Montreal after missing three games due to a concussion. He was stellar in the defensive end as well Saturday, covering for Josh Gorges on one sequence after the Buffalo defenseman was beaten in the neutral zone and backchecking hard on Boston center Patrice Bergeron to even the numbers and cut off the Bruins’ chance at a two-on-one break.

“Everything starts with good defensive play,” Reinhart said. “It creates so much room for everyone on the ice. In a tight game like that, it’s pretty easy to convince yourself to kind of get back there.”

“He’s really coming back from being out with the injury,” coach Dan Bylsma said. “Stepping back in there, it took him a game or two to get his feet underneath him but right now … he’s putting together a nice season.”

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According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Marchand’s penalty shot was the first overtime winner in Bruins history and, in fact, was the first one even attempted by a Boston player since regular-season overtime began in 1983. It’s also believed to be the first loss suffered by the Sabres on an overtime penalty shot.

Marchand is only the fourth player to score an OT goal on a penalty shot in the last 10 seasons. The most recent was Dallas’ Cody Eakin at Nashville on April 4, 2015. The others were current Sabres captain Brian Gionta for Montreal against the New York Rangers on April 12, 2014, and Bobby Ryan for Anaheim versus Detroit on March 2, 2011.

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Numbers from Saturday’s game:

• Goaltender Robin Lehner stopped 36 of 38 shots and continued his strong play since returning from his high-ankle sprain. Despite going just 2-3-1 in his six appearances, Lehner has posted a 2.17 goals-against average and .940 save percentage while staying quite busy; in his last five games, Lehner has faced an average of 37.6 shots.

• Sunday was O’Reilly’s 25th birthday. He assisted on Reinhart’s goal, giving him a point in three straight games, but went through his 12th straight game without a goal. O’Reilly is stuck on 17 goals, which remains the team high.

• The loss was Buffalo’s 16th of the season by one goal; the Sabres are 10-10-6 in one-goal decisions and 2-2 in games decided in 3-on-3 overtime.

• The Bruins improved to a stellar 23-10-3 against Eastern Conference foes; they are just 5-8-3 against the West.

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The Sabres were off Sunday. They will return to the ice for practice on Monday and host the Florida Panthers on Tuesday in First Niagara Center.

Buffalo’s busy week also includes a game Thursday night in Philadelphia, a visit here by Montreal on Friday and Sunday’s 12:30 matinee against the Colorado Avalanche in the return of former prospects Mikhail Grigorenko and Nikita Zadorov to Buffalo.

email: mharrington@buffnews.com

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