NHL

‘He’s just worked his butt off:’ How Panthers’ Sam Reinhart became a 60-goal scorer

‘He’s just worked his butt off:’ How Panthers’ Sam Reinhart became a 60-goal scorer

Sam Reinhart hasn’t had the chance yet to reflect on exactly how big of a season he’s had on a personal level. That’s understandable because the Florida Panthers as a whole still have a lot to achieve on a team level — first and foremost finishing off their opening-round series of the Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

“There’s too much going on,” Reinhart said, “to be sitting back and thinking about what I’ve accomplished.”

When that time does come, though, he’ll need a fair amount of time to fully appreciate all the moments.

The latest came on Saturday, when he scored his 60th goal of the season (when factoring in both the regular season and the playoffs) in the second period of Florida’ 6-3 loss in Game 4 to Tampa Bay to keep the series alive. The Panthers lead the best-of-7 series 3-1 entering Game 5 on Monday night at Amerant Bank Arena.

Reinhart’s 60 goals — 57 in the regular season, three in the playoffs — are the most in a single season in franchise history. It surpassed the previous mark by Pavel Bure, who had 59 total goals in the 2000-01 regular season (Florida did not make the playoffs that year).

“It’s always cool to be mentioned in the same sentence with him,” Reinhart said.

Now, Reinhart has always been known as a goal scorer. He has scored at least 22 goals in eight of his nine full NHL seasons, but his performance kicked up a notch once the Panthers acquired him ahead of the 2021-22 season.

In 2021-22, Reinhart scored a then-career-high 33 goals in the regular season and added three more in the playoffs.

In 2022-23, Reinhart scored 31 goals in the regular season and then tallied eight in the postseason as Florida made a run to the Stanley Cup Finals.

And this year, Reinhart had 57 goals in the regular season (second only to Toronto’s Auston Matthews, who had 69) and already has three goals through four playoff games.

And his goals are coming in big moments, too.

Of his 60 goals this season, 11 have been game-winners, seven have opened scoring and 19 have come in either the third period or overtime.

Reinhart also scored a franchise-record 27 power-play goals — just the third time since 2005-06 that a player had that many in a season — and five shorthanded goals, one shy of the Panthers’ single-season record.

How did he make such a jump? Panthers coach Paul Maurice has a few theories.

First, Maurice said, “you have to be the kind of person that has the capacity to improve. He worked very, very hard at all the small things that make a player better, a little quicker, a little faster.”

Reinhart didn’t cheat the game to generate offense. He evolved into a quality two-way player who was responsible with the puck on both ends of the ice and was rewarded for it.

Second on Maurice’s list: “You are the benefactor of the people that you play with.”

For Reinhart, that meant finally seeing success when playing with Florida captain Aleksander Barkov. The duo’s playing style seemed like a natural fit, but the success didn’t resonate on the ice their first two seasons together. This year, everything finally clicked. When Barkov and Reinhart were on the ice together during five-on-five play, the Panthers controlled 58.24 percent of shot attempts, outscored opponents 50-22 and had a 420-289 edge in scoring chances.

And finally for Maurice: “The greatest question is not so much goal scoring but confidence. It’s the great coaching question. Make him feel good about his game maybe when he’s not but he should. I don’t think he’s ever lacking in confidence because it’s player dictated that he should be a confident player. He’s just worked his butt off his whole career and a whole bunch of things came together.”

Put all that together, and Reinhart has put together a scoring campaign that will go down as one of the best in Panthers history.

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