Takeaways as Sam Reinhart’s early dominance continues and Panthers beat Blackhawks

Sam Reinhart’s hot start to the season continues.

Reinhart logged his first four-point game of the season, factoring into all of Florida’s goals in a 4-3 win over the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday at Amerant Bank Arena.

The Panthers improve to 9-4-1, winning won four consecutive games and five straight at home. Chicago falls to 5-8-0.

This includes a 5-0-1 record in one-goal games.

With the game tied 3-3 after two periods, Carter Verhaeghe scored the go-ahead goal 2:44 into the third period.

“We’re comfortable in those situations now,” Reinhart said of playing close games. “As you pile them up on each other and you find success, you just build that confidence more and more.”

The four-point game tied a career high for Reinhart.

Reinhart had the primary assist on Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s goal 39 seconds in to open scoring and on Verhaeghe’s go-ahead goal in the third period. Reinhart’s goals came when he deflected in a Matthew Tkachuk shot with 8:06 left in the first period for a power-play goal to put Florida up 2-1 and added a backhanded shot in front of the net seven minutes into the second period to give the Panthers a 3-2 lead.

“He’s just a smart player,” Ekman-Larsson said. “He’s making everybody that he plays with so much better, too. A lot of good hockey sense and he sees the ice very good. He can PK, power play, everything. That’s a guy you want on your team.”

Reinhart’s 21 points (11 goals, 10 assists) are the most by a Panthers player through the first 14 games of a season in franchise history. The previous record was 20, first done by Jonathan Huberdeau to open the 2020-21 season and matched by Tkachuk last season.

His nine multi-point games at worst will be tied for the NHL lead. The Vancouver Canucks’ Elias Pettersson and New York Rangers’ Artemi Panarin entered Sunday with eight multi-point games each.

“He’s got this great balance of intensity and then there’s other times just thinking his way [through plays and] finding holes,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said. “He’s got such great hands around the net. I’m happy for him because he’s worked hard to get himself to that point.”

Chicago’s 18-year-old rookie phenom Connor Bedard tied the game both times after Reinhart scored goals before Florida took the lead for good early in the third.

Panthers Sergei Bobrovsky was a perfect 14 for 14 in save chances in the third period to preserve the win and stopped 24 of 27 shots overall.

Here are three takeaways from the game.

Big effort from special teams

The Panthers scored multiple power play goals for the first time this season and were perfect on the penalty kill for a second consecutive game.

The power play has been one of Florida’s weak spots early this season, entering Sunday converting on just 12.5 percent of their opportunities with the man advantage.

The penalty kill has improved mightily after a sluggish start. Over the past eight games, Florida has given up just two goals on 20 opponent power-play opportunities — a 90-percent success rate while shorthanded.

“It’s starting with our kill the last couple of games,” Reinhart said. “We’re rolling there and we’re feeling better about taking time and space. And then our power play, we’ve had some looks. It’s a little rewarding when you start to see them go in.”

Florida Panthers center Sam Bennett (9) walking onto the ice as he high fives fans before an NHL game against the Chicago Blackhawks at the Amerant Bank Arena on Sunday, Nov 12, 2023, in Sunrise, Fla. Alie Skowronski/
Florida Panthers center Sam Bennett (9) walking onto the ice as he high fives fans before an NHL game against the Chicago Blackhawks at the Amerant Bank Arena on Sunday, Nov 12, 2023, in Sunrise, Fla. Alie Skowronski/

Sam Bennett returns

The Panthers’ lineup got a boost on Sunday with center Sam Bennett returning to the lineup.

Sunday was just Bennett’s second of the season. He missed the first seven games due to a left leg injury sustained late in the preseason. His season debut on Oct. 30 against the Boston Bruins lasted just a period and a half before defenseman Hampus Lindolhm landed awkwardly on Bennett’s left leg near Boston’s net. Bennett missed the next five games before returning on Sunday.

Bennett went back to his usual role as Florida’s second-line center with Verhaeghe and Tkachuk on his wings. He was also on Florida’s second power play unit with Evan Rodrigues, Anton Lundell, Nick Cousins and Gustav Forsling.

Next up: A week in California

After playing three of their past four games at home, the Panthers will now head to the West Coast to play a string of three games in four days.

It starts Tuesday with a 10:30 p.m. puck drop against the San Jose Sharks and continues with Florida’s first back-to-back of the season Thursday against the Los Angeles Kings (10:30 p.m.) and Friday against the Anaheim Ducks (10 p.m.)