Monday, November 11, 2013

Reaves doing more than just energizing

Blues' enforcer focusing on offensive contributions to add to physical element

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Three seconds into Saturday's much-anticipated game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Ryan Reaves did something the hometown fans have grown accustomed from the Blues enforcer.

Reaves made eye contact with Penguins defenseman Deryk Engelland. Both knew what to do next. And in a flash, the gloves were dropped and fists were flying. At the conclusion of the fight, it was a satisfying feeling for the Winnipeg, Manitoba native. Reaves just got the crowd into what would be a very entertaining hockey game, one in which the Blues won 2-1. He served up quite the appetizer.

But fighting and delivering bone-crushing and board-shaking checks are not the only things Reaves has laid his sole focus on since returning to the Blues from last season's lockout.

(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues enforcer Ryan Reaves delivers a fist pump after scoring a goal.
As evidenced by his ability to read a play coming off the bench and getting to the proper area of the ice, Reaves was able to precisely redirect teammate Maxim Lapierre's feed into the high slot for Reaves' second goal of the season. Reaves' first goal of the season, a slick rooftop shot from a sharp angle against Florida in the second game of the season, was a thing of beauty.

But Reaves, who has 11 career NHL goals, didn't just wake up one morning and decided he wanted to be more than just an energy-type player, adding offense for his team has been a work in progress.

"I wouldn't say just this year, I'd say over the last year and a half is a guy who's really worked on his game and taking pride in coming to the rink every day and getting better," Blues power forward Chris Stewart said of Reaves. "Maybe when he first came in, he was a guy who would only chip it in and go for that hit. Now when a play's there, he's definitely capable of making it. He can finish around the net too and it's a bonus."

Reaves isn't looking to suddenly become a 20-goal scorer. His answer wasn't a surprise when asked if he could supplant teammate Alexander Steen as the team's leading goal scorer.

"I don't even know if that's possible," Reaves joked, referring to Steen's 14 goals this season. "I can play a couple more seasons, I don't think I can catch Steener.

"(But) I definitely would like to put a couple more in for the boys, that's for sure."

The roots to Reaves' offensive efforts may have been implemented when Reaves decided to go and play in the East Coast Hockey League with the Orlando Solar Bears during the NHL lockout.

In 13 games with the Solar Bears, Reaves had six goals and nine points, including two power play goals and a pair of shorthanded goals in one game. Reaves wanted to play games. He felt it was better than the daily workouts with fellow teammates at the Hardees IcePlex.

But what really stood out were the amount of minutes Reaves, who's game sheet with the Blues can read anywhere from seven to 12 minutes a night, was playing with the Solar Bears. They were ridiculous amounts than even the most polished NHL defensemen would have a hard time handling.

"There were a couple games where I was playing 38 minutes and I was on the power play," said Reaves, who played upwards of 41 minutes in his final game. That's a lot for me. It helped me out a lot. You get a lot more room and obviously with me going down there, the coaches allowed me to do a lot more, try a lot more things down there. I was holding onto the puck a lot more, I was skating with it more and trying things I probably wouldn't try here, but just kind of gaining the confidence to maybe meet it halfway. I think in that month I definitely developed a lot.

"I honestly think that's the best thing I could have done last year. There's a lot more room out there."

Fourth line players don't get all the ice time top line guys get, so when they get their opportunity, there's the tendency of just playing chip-and-chase with the puck and doing what they do best: forecheck and create energy on the ice. But Reaves' confidence stems from his time in the ECHL and has allowed him to make plays in the offensive zone typical fourth-line players might not try.

"You play limited minutes with the skill we have on this team and skill that other teams have, so when you do get on the ice, you have to make sure that every shift's in their zone," Reaves said. "First key is taking care of your zone and then next, it's always getting it deep. You don't want to have those turnovers at the blue line or any east exits out of their zone. You want to get the puck deep and you want to lay a body and wear them down as much as you can.

"I don't want to be that guy that's sitting on the bubble all game, just going out there to hit and fight and not really produce any offense. I definitely worked on my offensive skills this summer a little bit. I fully expected to put up points every couple games or as much as I can. I don't want to be that guy that's just kind of sitting in the wings waiting to do nothing. I think it's good for the fourth line to contribute whenever we can."

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock feels like Reaves is reading the game the right way.

"He's starting to play well again, really well 5-on-5," Hitchcock said. "Nice to see him get rewarded with all the good play that's coming.

"It's not so much his offense, it's his anticipation. He's a smart player and sometimes if he continues to focus on just playing hockey, he can be really effective. He can read teams' exits, he's able to pick off passes, he's able to anticipate plays now. He's not just trying to get hits and energize the team. We don't need that type of energy. We need good play. He's given it to us quite a bit now."

Lapierre, who's seen his share of enforcer-type players throughout his career, feels like Reaves can emulate his game after another player that plays with grit and has a strong scoring touch around the net.

"I talked to him the other day, I think if he focused and works hard, he could be a guy like (Milan) Lucic," Lapierre said, referring to the Boston Bruins power forward. "I'm not talking about a 20-goal scorer, I'm talking about that hits hard, fights and has such an impact on the game. If Revo focused and does the right things, he's not too far away from that.

"I think it's rare these days to have a guy that's really tough like Revo and to be as good and smart on the ice. You don't see that often around the league."

Reaves, the son of former Winnipeg Blue Bombers running back Willard Reaves, has spent extra time at the rink and closely watching game situations on video. It helped him, particularly last season when Reaves, Adam Cracknell and Chris Porter formed the 'CPR Line' and developed consistent chemistry that enabled the coaches to trust them in critical game situations that's extended into this season.

(St. Louis Blues photo)
Ryan Reaves (left) applies pressure to Anaheim's Matt Beleskey in a game
last season at Scottrade Center.
"When you see your mistakes on video and you watch where you are, especially when you're out of position and where you should be, I think that really helps," Reaves said. "We've been watching video the last couple weeks and kind of just breaking down my game and trying to produce a little more offense out of me. I think that's the biggest key."

Even though Reaves is trying to be a more polished player on the ice, if fans want to think of him as the energy guy on the team, that's perfectly fine with him.

"There is more to us, but I love hitting guys," Reaves said. "That's my favorite aspect is to hit guys. I think that shows up in my game all the time.

"When people say all I do is go out there and hit, well I've got no problem with that. I try and contribute offensively. It's not like my only goal is to hit guys, but I am that physical, kind of energy leader on this team. I try to do that every game."

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