Johan Larsson's march through March has begun.
Like clockwork, Johan Larsson's game shows significant improvement during the final weeks of the NHL season. After producing next to nothing during the opening five months, the Buffalo Sabres center has one goal and two points in two March games.
Expect the trend to continue.
Mr. March has played 32 games in the month, and he has 10 goals and 21 points. He has 16 goals and 41 points in the other 210 games he's played.
"I had no idea," Larsson said Tuesday of his traditional uptick. "I usually play good at the end of the years. I feel better about my game.
"I don't know if it's one specific thing, but I know I feel a little more comfortable with everything: the coaches, system and everything."
April typically isn't bad, either, with three goals and seven points in 14 games. So exactly half of his 26 career goals have come during March and April, leaving October through February in the dust.
Part of it is opportunity. The Sabres have cleaned house during Larsson's five seasons, trading forwards and shutting others down due to injuries. Larsson then moves up the lineup – he played a season-high 20:30 against Toronto – and gets power-play time. Of his nine career power-play points, seven have come in March and April.
"It's probably just a little more opportunity at the end of the years with trades and injuries," Larsson said in KeyBank Center. "That could be a factor, too, as well. But I don't think too much right now. I'm just playing and feel good about it.
"It's always nice to play a lot, but you've got to do your role the best you can every night. That's what you're here for, and that's what I'm trying to improve every night."
When the Sabres host Calgary on Wednesday, Larsson will attempt to record points in back-to-back games for the first time this season. It's been a forgettable year for the 25-year-old, who has four goals, 14 points and a minus-17 rating in 64 games.
"It's been really tough for everyone," Larsson said. "It's the toughest one I've been a part of here. It's been a lot of bad days, tough days coming to the rink.
"You try to be a pro every day. It's hard in this league, especially with the way it's gone. But we've kind of found our rhythm a little bit lately and been playing really well as a team. There's some positive things there."
Sam Reinhart's fondness for getting in a goalie's face was talked about again Tuesday. Namely, did he envision himself in that role as he prepared for his NHL career?
"Probably not, to be honest," the right winger said.
Reinhart was a slick-passing, goal-scoring center before the NHL. Now he's most effective when planting himself at the top of the crease and tipping pucks. He did it on the opening goal of Monday's 5-3 victory over Toronto, and he made the whole night miserable for Maple Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen.
The first time Reinhart ever tried the net-front role was his rookie season under former coach Dan Bylsma.
"Growing up, I was always half-wall or middle, but I was able to take advantage of the opportunity there," Reinhart said. "Obviously, there's some good guys that I've been able to play on the power play with that we’ve been able to read and react off each other. In terms of five-on-five, the puck's going to go there eventually, so it's kind of crept into my game and I try to use that."
Reinhart has shown a knack for deflections and positioning, but there wasn't a set plan on how to become that type of player.
"There wasn't one thing that I kind of told myself, 'That's what I'm going to start doing and that's what I'm going to learn how to do,'" he said. "It's kind of naturally crept in.
"It's so hard to score goals in this league, and the puck's going to go there eventually. Maybe I just found that out early, had some success early with that and that's how I'm going to have to score goals in this league. I may as well go there."
Kyle Criscuolo was excited to return to the Sabres. The Amerks certainly won't like the result.
Criscuolo suffered an upper-body injury during a collision with Toronto's Matt Martin, and the center will miss four to six weeks. Martin hit the center hard into the boards midway through the second period, and Criscuolo immediately retreated to the trainers' room.
If you are hit by Martin please seek immediate medical attention. pic.twitter.com/xZgxT1Jmek
— Flintor (@TheFlintor) March 6, 2018
It was Criscuolo's first game with Buffalo since December. He earned the recall with 15 goals and 34 points in 50 games with Rochester, which will obviously miss his production.
"Tough on him, too," Sabres coach Phil Housley said Tuesday. "In the little time that he did play in the game, I thought he played a really sound game and brought his speed. He's one of those guys that goes to the tough area. He took that hit, and it's unfortunate for him and it's unfortunate for us moving forward."
The Sabres recalled Criscuolo because an injury to Evan Rodrigues left the team short at center. Rodrigues is week-to-week, so Buffalo will have to recall another player from the Amerks, move Zemgus Girgensons back to center or adjust in another way against the Flames.