Colorado Avalanche forward Ryan O'Reilly admitted that his impact in games during the first half of the season wasn't what it should be.
He had 29 points (10 goals and 19 assists) in his first 55 games, fairly low offensive numbers for the reigning Lady Byng Trophy winner who recorded career highs in goals (28) and points (64) in 2013-14.
However since Feb. 14, O'Reilly has shown why he is such a valuable asset. The center has 24 points (five goals and 19 assists) in the last 21 games and tallied the Avalanche's goal in Monday's game, a 4-1 loss in which the Edmonton Oilers scored two empty-netters late to seal the contest.
O'Reilly's 15th goal of the season extended his point streak to eight games (five goals and eight assists), setting a new career high. O'Reilly's previous long stretch was seven games done as a rookie from Oct. 12-24, 2009.
The Clinton, Ontario native leads Colorado in assists with a career-high 38.
"I feel more control out there. I feel like I can impact the game more," O'Reilly said of his recent play before reflecting on the first four months of his sixth NHL campaign. "Early in the year, I wasn't sure. I didn't want the puck as much. I didn't want to dictate as much. Now, it's changed. The last couple months, I have constantly tried to find it, and it's been improving where I'm getting out there and I have the puck on my stick and have the game on my stick and want that feeling and want the pressure of the game, I guess. It's definitely changed, and it's been a big lesson that I can hopefully continue to keep doing."
Earlier on Monday, O'Reilly was named the NHL's third star of the week after recording seven assists and eight points in four games from March 23-29. He had three consecutive multi-point outings in that time, which included a one goal and two assist effort last Wednesday against the same Edmonton squad.
While his play has been superb, O'Reilly was quick to give credit to linemates Gabriel Landeskog and Alex Tanguay for his recent success. Together, the trio has made one of the hottest lines in the league over the past few weeks as Landeskog had 15 points in the month of March (six goals and nine assists) while Tanguay has 12 points (six goals and six assists) in his last 12 games.
"Landy and Tangs, both have been playing phenomenal," O'Reilly said Monday after the team's morning skate. "For me, it's been easier out there. Those guys create so much.
"Landy is a guy that does everything right. No matter what you need in the game, physicality or puck possession or shots on goal, he excels in whatever area is needed. Tangs is a guy that is so good with the puck and never throws it away. He holds on and makes the right plays. He creates so much without straining energy or stuff like that. He uses intelligence, which is exciting to play with."
Colorado coach Patrick Roy agrees with O'Reilly's assessment of the line and likes how the three left-handed shooters work with each other.
"Landy is the one that gets the pucks in the corner, the power forward," he said after morning skate. "Alex moves the puck very well. Ryan, he is doing a good job both sides of the ice, offensively and defensively. I think it's a good mix."
The group found the back of the net again at 13:18 of the first period to tie the contest with the Oilers 1-1.
Entering the offensive zone, O'Reilly left a drop pass for Tanguay at the right point before driving to the front of the net. Tanguay's slap shot was partially blocked by an Edmonton player, but the puck kept going toward goalie Richard Bachman, forcing the netminder to make a last-second kick save. Waiting in the low slot, O'Reilly was able to pounce on the loose rebound and quickly throw the puck into the open cage.
O'Reilly finishes the month of March with 17 points (five goals and 12 assists), the most on the team and his most in any single month in his career.
JOHNSON INJURY UPDATE
Erik Johnson continues to skate with the team, but there is still no definite timetable for the defenseman's return to game action.
Johnson has taken part in the Avalanche's last two morning skates, but hasn't participated in a full practice since March 22. That was his first team practice with the club since having arthroscopic knee surgery on Jan. 26, but he was wearing a red, non-contact jersey during it.
Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy has continued to say that the 2015 All-Star is close to returning since the surgery nine weeks ago. On Monday after the Avs' morning skate, Roy said Johnson would take part in the squad's practice on Tuesday before a determination will be made on if he is ready to play.
Johnson was having a career season through his first 47 games, registering 12 goals and 11 assists while averaging 24:25 of ice time.