Ryan O’Reilly’s game doesn’t revolve completely around putting points on the scoreboard. His role as the Avalanche’s third-line center is to play solid defensively, kill penalties and chip in offensively on occasion.
While the first two parts of those job requirements had been filled very nicely by the rookie in recent weeks, the latter element hadn’t come quite as easily. Heading into Wednesday night’s game against the Ottawa Senators, O’Reilly had gone 16 games without registering a point.
Not that the rookie was playing poorly. Far from it, actually. Avalanche head coach Joe Sacco has been asked about O’Reilly’s play numerous times recently and has always come back with glowing reports about how the first-year center is playing within his own game, limiting mistakes and displaying a very solid defensive effort.
Still, after recording 17 points (4g/13a) in his first 24 games of the 2009-10 season, it wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine that O’Reilly would be frustrated with his pointless streak.
But instead of focusing on the bounces that weren’t going his way in the offensive zone, O’Reilly centered his attention on the things that were going right. The team has been winning, and he’s been contributing in many other ways.
In fact, when speaking with O’Reilly on Tuesday before the team left for its three-game road trip, he honestly had no idea when he had registered his last point, and it really didn’t seem to concern him all that much.
“I haven’t had a point in a while,” the 6-foot, 200-pound center said on Tuesday. “It has to be around 10 games I think; maybe even more than that. But I think it’s going fine. The team is winning, so you can’t ask for much more than that. If the team was losing I think I’d be mixing things up. But I think as long as I take care of my own end first and play solid on the penalty kill, the chances will eventually come and hopefully I can capitalize on them.”
And when the opportunity came Wednesday night, he certainly did. With 15:34 remaining in the third period against Ottawa, O’Reilly cut toward the Senators’ goal and knocked home the rebound of a Brandon Yip attempt for his fifth goal of the season. The tally, which gave the Avalanche a 4-1 lead at the time, stood up as the game-winning goal after Ottawa added a pair of late tallies in Colorado’s 4-3 victory.Watch O'Reilly's game-winning goal against the Senators
Adjusting to the NHL can be tough for any player, never mind an 18-year-old rookie fresh out of junior hockey. Playing with the Ontario Hockey League’s Erie Otters the past two seasons, O’Reilly was accustomed to seeing nearly 25 minutes of ice time per night while also skating on the club’s top power-play and penalty-killing units.
His transition to the NHL has been made easier thanks to the communication he’s had with the Avalanche’s coaching staff from day one.
“Coming into camp I was just trying to show them what I could do,” said O’Reilly. “I could sometimes be offensive, but mostly as a solid defensive penalty killer. Having that from the start and knowing what they expect and what I expected from myself made things a lot easier. One of the things that helped me get here is that they were looking for someone to fill that role.”
While he has yet to scratch the surface of his potential, O’Reilly knows where his bread is buttered right now. The Clinton, Ontario native feels that if he sticks with the traits that helped him secure a roster spot out of training camp, things will turn out just fine.
“For me, one of the main things is my penalty killing,” said O’Reilly. “That has to be there game in and game out. Some games we’ll have a lot of penalties against us and sometimes we don’t. Just knowing that role helps out. I think it’s a lot easier for guys when they know their role.”