In the Florida Panthers’ Sunday matinee against Chicago at Amerant Bank Arena, which was broadcast nationally on NHL Network, Blackhawks phenom Connor Bedard set the hockey world ablaze with his snazzy strip-and-score late in the first period. The 18-year-old wunderkind would later add another highlight reel goal, but it was the host Panthers who go on to eke out a 4-3 win.
Matching Bedard’s buzzworthy brace with a pair of goals (one via deflection and the other a heady bank shot off goalie Arvid Soderblom) and helping lead the Panthers to victory was forward Sam Reinhart, who also assisted on Oliver Ekman-Larsson early goal and Carter Verhaeghe’s third period game-winner to garner First Star of the Game honors.
On the strength of his four-point explosion, Reinhart tied Matthew Tkachuk (2022-23) and Jonathan Huberdeau (2020-21) for the fewest games (14) needed to reach 20 points in franchise history.
Usually a slow starter, Reinhart is leading his team in both goals (11) and points (21) while skating on Florida’s dominant top line with captain Aleksander Barkov and newcomer Evan Rodrigues, and scoring on a ridiculous 23.4% of his shots. Four of his markers have come on the power play. one while shorthanded, and he has already racked up three game-winning goals.
Widening the scope, Reinhart’s nine multipoint games are tops in the NHL and he is in a pack of four players trailing only Auston Matthews (13) and Brock Boeser (12) in goals and is tied for seventh in the league’s scoring race. On Monday, he was the named the NHL’s First Star of the Week.
For comparison’s sake, at this point in 2022-23 Reinhart had just two goals and three assists before going on to deliver a second consecutive 30-goal season for the Panthers since being acquired from the Buffalo Sabres on July 24, 2021 for goaltender Devon Levi and a first-round pick in 2022 NHL Entry Draft.
After finishing with 67 points. the second-most in his career, in the regular season, Reinhart produced eight goals and five assists in Florida’s unexpected run to the Stanley Cup Final, where they ran out of gas and came up short against the Vegas Golden Knights.
The experience seems to have transformed not only the 28-year-old Reinhart, but many other members of the team.
Without key defensemen Brandon Montour and Aaron Ekblad to start the season, the Panthers were dealt another blow due to two separate injuries to second line center Sam Bennett which has limited him to one full game and 7:54 of another thus far. These injuries had many wondering what kind of start Florida’s was going to get off to, with the best scenario being merely treading water until healthy, and seemed to present a potentially big monkey wrench in reaching the postseason to have a chance to defend their Prince of Wales Trophy.
Well, after Sunday’s exciting win over Chicago, the Panthers are a surprising 9-4-1 and currently in second place in the Atlantic Division as they head into the opening game of a cross-country road trip that sees them face all three of the league’s California clubs. The Cats head west on an impressive 7-1-1 run.
There are obviously other contributing factors to Florida’s hot start, but on the offensive side of the ledger, no one has stood taller than Reinhart.
In the final year of his current contract, the 28-year-old Reinhart seems destined to better, and maybe even smash, the career-highs of 33 goals, 49 assists and 82 points that he set in his first season with the Cats after shuffling south from Buffalo, even if he does come back down to earth to a bit.
As long as he remains healthy, and his current chemistry with linemates Barkov and Rodrigues continues, Reinhart could eclipse 40 goals and 90 points for the first time, which would be huge for him considering his contract status.
Could he even go beyond that and join Pavel Bure as the second Panther to ever break the 50-goal barrier? Stay tuned..