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Sabres' Sam Reinhart unable to get on track offensively

Until now, Sam Reinhart has been a prolific player. He had 319 points in 250 junior games. He scored 23 goals as a rookie for the Sabres. He reached 30 assists last year in his second season.

So yes, he admitted Thursday, this start has been tough on him.

Reinhart's celebrations have been few and far between through Buffalo's opening 15 games. He has just two goals and three assists. That's an 11-goal, 27-point pace, far below the numbers expected for a No. 2 overall draft pick.

"I think the opportunities have been there as of late, so maybe try and capitalize on that a little more," Reinhart said after preparing for Friday's visit by the Florida Panthers. "My focus right now is trying to build off the new line and read off each other. If we can do that as soon as possible, that's going to benefit everybody."

Reinhart is centering for left wing Nick Baptiste and right wing Seth Griffith this week, and they had a decent (though unproductive) debut Tuesday against Washington. Reinhart had four shots, tying the season high he set Oct. 14.

He's failed to record a shot in six games while totaling just 22. His shots figured to drop after a move from right winger to center, but the assists have fallen, too. Not much has been happening offensively when his line is on the ice.

"I felt best when I've had the puck on my stick coming through the middle," Reinhart said in KeyBank Center. "I've been happy with the speed I've been able to generate. I think making more plays would be better" than shooting, "and then bearing down in certain instances."

During Reinhart's first two seasons, he was a solid complementary piece. He produced while skating with centers Jack Eichel and Ryan O'Reilly.

Reinhart hasn't yet proved he can anchor his own line. He has just one goal and three points playing five-on-five.

"It's just consistency in his game, getting maybe a little bit dirty down in the net front," coach Phil Housley said. "He's getting there, but just fighting for some loose pucks.

"I think the last three or four games have been really good positionally for him on our breakouts. He's in a really good position coming out of our end, and as a result he's not spending a lot of time down there. He's just got to continue doing what he's doing, and he's going to break through."

The Sabres need it. The 22-year-old is in his third full season, and his continued growth was supposed to help the team move up. Instead, they're just 5-8-2, ahead of only Florida (4-8-2) in the Eastern Conference.

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One reason for the drop in Reinhart's statistics and the Sabres' standing is an inept power play. Buffalo was first in the NHL last year. Reinhart was on the top unit and had 17 power-play points, including nine goals.

He has one goal and one assist on the power play this season as the Sabres rank 29th in the league at 11.5 percent. Housley has removed Reinhart from the first unit, opting for Evander Kane to skate with Eichel, O'Reilly, Kyle Okposo and Marco Scandella.

"We're just trying to make some changes," Housley said. "Obviously, our power play isn't where it should be. We've had periods where we had the units that were here last year, and it hasn't been working.

"We're just trying to give it new flavor, give Evander some more time on the power play. In that middle spot, he's a threat to score. He's got an incredible release if we can find him, and he's a guy that will push and go to the net for any high rebounds."

Reinhart practiced on the second unit with Jason Pominville, Benoit Pouliot, Victor Antipin and Nathan Beaulieu, who could return after missing seven games with an upper-body injury.

A personnel switch is nothing new for Reinhart. While the top two lines have settled in with Kane-Eichel-Pominville and Pouliot-O'Reilly-Okposo, the third line has been in flux. Reinhart hasn't connected with varying combinations featuring Baptiste, Griffith, Zemgus Girgensons, Justin Bailey, Jordan Nolan and Pouliot.

Something needs to start working.

"I'm just trying to roll with it, just trying each game to find more and more chemistry as soon as possible," said Reinhart, whose team has a chance to getting rolling against Florida on Friday and Montreal on Saturday. "These two are important for us. We have a lot of back-to-backs coming up the next couple weekends. To get a good start off them would be key for us."

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