Avalanche center Ryan O’Reilly has been displaying the ability to step up while the team has gone through adversity, no matter how much ice time he’s received or what role he’s been asked to fill.
Flash back to Feb. 16, when the Avalanche hosted the Pittsburgh Penguins at Pepsi Center. Colorado was playing its first game of the season without center Matt Duchene
, who had suffered a hand injury two nights earlier against the Calgary Flames and was being listed as out indefinitely at the time.
Sliding into a more prominent role while his fellow sophomore was out of the lineup, O’Reilly was one of the most effective players on the ice. In that overtime loss to the Penguins, he logged a career-high 21:58 of ice time and led the Avalanche with five shots on goal.
It seemed to be a brief but exciting glimpse into the potential that O’Reilly possesses.
But as it turned out, Duchene would miss only one additional game due to his injury, meaning O’Reilly was moved back into his customary role of the team’s third-line center.
In fact, in the six games following the Pittsburgh contest, O’Reilly averaged 12:08 of ice time and was held pointless.
Known for his drive and tireless work ethic, the Clinton, Ontario native can often be seen slipping out of his jersey and pads after games and immediately throwing on a windbreaker before heading to the weight room to get in an additional workout if he feels he didn’t work hard enough that night.
Not surprisingly, all that extra work has paid off when O’Reilly has been given extra opportunities.
The Avalanche has plagued by injuries all season, but things have been especially tough for the team of late. Already missing five regulars due to season-ending injuries, Colorado has also seen forwards Paul Stastny
, Milan Hejduk
and Ryan Stoa
miss games over the past few weeks with various ailments (although all three have returned now).
As the old saying goes, injuries lead to opportunities. Asked to step out of his typical role – that of a mostly defensive-oriented center and penalty killer who can chip in offensively – O’Reilly has shined with additional playing time and also due to the fact that he’s putting more pressure on himself to produce with so many of his teammates out of the lineup. He has also played out of position at times, occupying the left wing when Colorado found itself short-handed due to injuries.
“No matter what, I want to win and this team wants to win,” said O’Reilly. “To be able to have the opportunity to get more ice time and stuff like that is great, because it gives me more opportunities to impact the game. When you’re out there more, it’s easier to get into a rhythm and find your groove. I know that I should be impacting the game, despite what ice time I get, but now I have a chance to find a certain groove.”
O’Reilly’s recent hot streak began in earnest on March 5 against the Oilers, where he earned 16:41 of ice time (the most he had seen since the Pittsburgh game) and scored his sixth goal of the season.
He would add his seventh tally two games later against Anaheim on March 11 and would also score the following night against Nashville during a game in which he might have been the best player on the ice for either team. The tally against the Predators was his third in four games and also marked the first time in his NHL career that he had scored in back-to-back games.
He’s kept the momentum going, scoring Colorado’s first goal during a 5-4 come-from-behind victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday to give him four goals in his last eight contests. The tally was the result of getting into a prime spot on the ice, as O’Reilly first flashed in front of Columbus goalie Steve Mason to set a screen before easily knocking home the rebound of a Kevin Porter
shot from just outside the crease. The goal was his ninth of the season, which eclipsed his total from a year ago.
“Recently things have been going pretty good for me. Obviously it’s unfortunate that we haven’t been winning as much as we wanted until the last few games, but I’m contributing more and we’ve played some pretty solid games lately so it’s starting to feel better,” said O’Reilly. “I still have a few chances each game where I have to focus and bear down a little more. But with the injuries that we’re facing, it’s an opportunity for me to step up. I’m faced with that opportunity right now and I feel that I’m handling it the best I can.”