Colorado Avalanche forward Ryan O'Reilly has been leading the team in various categories for much of the second half of the season as his club looks to end the 2014-15 campaign on a positive note.
Despite some of the team’s offensive struggles earlier in the year, the Avs are the only NHL squad with six different 50-point scorers. O’Reilly is one of those six players, ranking third on the team with 55 points (17 goals, 38 assists) in 81 games, and that does not include his shootout stats.
The 24-year-old center has helped the Avalanche to a 10-4-0 shootout record this season, scoring three times on six attempts. Two of his three goals have ended up being game-deciding markers, including Thursday’s backhand tally against goaltender Ondrej Pavelec in Colorado’s 1-0 victory over the Winnipeg Jets at Pepsi Center.
“I just wanted to change my speed and see if I could beat him with the backhand,” O’Reilly said after the game. “Lucky for me it did.”
O’Reilly also helped forward Matt Duchene decide which move to use in his shootout attempt as Duchene was the second player to shoot for the Avalanche.
“I saw what Factor did first,” said Duchene. “He and I talk a lot about what we’re going to do and stuff, and I had a feeling he might try that one. When I saw that that worked, I was just trying to fake like I was going to do it again and just switched it up at the last second.”
Duchene made the right decision as he buried his attempt, and Avs goalie Reto Berra stopped the next Winnipeg shooter to seal Colorado’s league-leading 10th shootout win this season.
When asked about his team’s victory last night, O’Reilly said: “Any time where you don’t allow any goals, it’s definitely a good feeling, especially with the way we competed out there. We stayed with it the entire game, and did not try to force things late. There are definitely some good lessons there that we have to continue to do.
“You can tell they needed the points,” he continued when asked about the team’s Central Division rival. “They played really well defensively. We had tons of pressure down low but didn’t get enough shots or pucks to the net. They did a great job to keep us out of the middle. Defensively, we played solid. Reto played phenomenal to give us a chance.”
In addition to scoring the shootout winner, O’Reilly registered five shots on goal while centering a line between captain Gabriel Landeskog and Alex Tanguay. He also finished first among Avs forwards on Thursday in ice time (25:30) and won 76 percent (13-of-17) of his draws in the faceoff circle.
Although the Avalanche did not earn a berth in this year’s postseason, O’Reilly has continued to develop and build on previous successes since he joined the league for the 2009-10 campaign.
This season, the 6-foot, 200-pound center leads the team in takeaways (95) and faceoff percentage (53.3 percent), while also ranking first among Avs forwards in average ice time (19:43). He has 26 points (seven goals, 19 assists) in his last 26 games, including 15 points (seven goals, eight assists) in his last 13 contests.
His career-high 38 assists rank first among Avalanche forwards and second overall on the team, behind only defenseman Tyson Barrie (40).
Colorado’s second-round pick (33rd overall) in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, O’Reilly led all Avalanche players in scoring during the month of March after posting 17 points (five goals, 12 assists) in 13 games—the most in any single month of his career. He was named the NHL’s Third Star of the Week for his play from March 23-29 after leading the league with seven assists and eight points in four games. He also had a career-high eight-game point streak that spanned from March 14-30.
After an up-and-down season for the team as a whole, Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy said he hopes O’Reilly and the rest of the players will continue their recent success as they enter into the final game of the season against the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday.
“We’re going to keep the same recipe,” Roy said after Thursday night’s game. “We’re going to give them a day off and then we’re going to go on the ice Saturday morning and finish the season on a great note. I expect the same type of effort from our guys.
“Our players deserve a lot of credit. I am very proud of them. The way they handled [not making the playoffs], it would be very easy for them to shut down. The fact that our captain and guys have been following him, to me it means a lot. This is a special group. This is a group that I told you all year long that they care, they want to do well and they’ve shown exactly that in the last two games.”