Tuesday, October 22, 2019

For O'Reilly, goals will come by being more selfish

Center has eight points, just one empty-net goal in nine games; feels he needs 
to shoot more, work harder to get to areas where he can get more puck touches

ST. LOUIS -- It's no secret that Ryan O'Reilly has been a blessing for the Blues since they acquired the multi-talented center from the Buffalo Sabres on July 1, 2018.

Heck, his acquisition from the Sabres is already being touted as among the best trades in Blues history.

(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues center Ryan O'Reilly (90) works to keep puck possession away from
Colorado defenseman Cale Makar on Monday.
O'Reilly, 28, not only fulfilled his comment to Doug Armstrong when they first spoke by phone after the trade of 'Let's go win a Cup,' but he did it as arguably the Blues' best player last year that culminated with him taking home the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP, then being rewarded as the winner of the Selke Trophy as the top defensive forward.

Adulation from Blues fans will never waver, but with a new year come new challenges, and through nine games, it's caught O'Reilly's eye that the '1' under his goal total thus far this season is a number he'd like to see change, and soon.

O'Reilly's numbers aren't troubling by any stretch. He's got eight points in nine games (one goal, seven assists), which would equate to just under 72 points for an 82-game season. Not bad by any stretch; he had 77 (28 goals, 49 assists) in 82 games last season, so let's not get too alarmed. But O'Reilly's goal total would, at this pace, dip to 10 goals, and that's a number he would like to nip in the bud.

So what's the main culprit to all this? Well, start by being a little more selfish. Compared to last season, O'Reilly is taking three shot attempts fewer per game than he is so far this season. He was averaging roughly 4.49 shot attempts per game as opposed to 1.67 this season. His 234 shots on goal and 368 shot attempts were both career-highs last season. He's on pace for 109 shots on goal and 137 attempts. It's a drastic dip, and as hard as O'Reilly works on a daily basis, look for this to be one of those areas he will find himself working at long after practices are over.

"For myself, I don't think I've been nowhere near ... I think I've had good shifts here and there, but just not my normal self in the way I create," said O'Reilly, who has no points in five straight games, which is tied for his largest drought in two seasons with the Blues after seven points in four games to start the season. "It hasn't been anything that it needs to be in order to be effective. I know if I get that part, I know it'll help other guys get going as well. 

"After the (5-2 loss against Montreal), you get really upset with everything and think my only goal is from an empty net. Looking at the past games, I've not really had many opportunities where I've been in a great spot. That's just on me. I'm either not working hard enough or not getting to the right areas. It's definitely an issue that it's obviously nice to know that it's an issue and we can fix it. I haven't had many shots either, and I can't really remember the last really good scoring chance I've had. It's something that needs to be fixed."

That trend continued on Monday in the Blues' 3-1 win over Colorado. O'Reilly sparkled on the dot, winning 19 of 24 face-offs (79 percent; he's at 60.34 percent on the season), but had just one shot on goal, and it was his only shot attempt. He's played much of the season on a line with David Perron and Sammy Blais, although the past couple games, Alexander Steen has replaced Blais on that line, and both Perron and Blais have benefited from playing with O'Reilly, but getting No. 90 going himself in the goal column would help balance out his game.

"We talked. His shot attempts are down from last year," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "He's not getting enough puck touches. He needs the puck more that he has. ... He's got to demand the puck more and when he gets it, I think he can shoot a lot more than he has been. His shots are down. If you want to score a goal, you've got to shoot it. He's got to demand the puck more and when he gets it, he's good with it. Hang onto it, but he's got to get it to the net."

O'Reilly has had just 12 shots on goal in nine games, or roughly 1.33 per game (last season, he averaged 2.85 shots on goal per game), and that number needs to go up for him to get back on pace to if he'd like to get anywhere close to the 28 goals scored last season, which tied his career-high. Somehow, knowing his work ethic, he'll get there, and judging by Berube's confidence in putting his line on the ice against Colorado's top line Monday, the defensive game has never been in question. Nor will it ever be. O'Reilly will still find a way to work on shooting pucks.

"It's just working harder, getting to the harder areas more, fighting to get to that inside and in the scoring positions," O'Reilly said. "Not only from that, but that creates more in general for my linemates if I can fight to get inside, it gives them more time. From there, that's where shots come from on those rebounds and those opportunities. For me, getting on the inside is a big, big important factor as well. Just overall in general, it's a bit disappointing not having the numbers contributing offensively. I've got to stop kind of worrying about that side of the game and more on just taking it shift by shift and working hard, fighting for the ice and making it difficult on their guys. Usually when that happens, things just naturally start to develop. That's kind of the focus I think for myself. Other guys too, getting back to the harder game and letting things unfold from there."


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