As Nashville closes in on the quarter-pole to the 2010-11 season, the team has survived a tough road schedule and some high-profile injuries to sit right in the middle of the mix for a Western Conference playoff spot.
Much of the credit for the first quarter success is due to the emergence of the Patric Hornqvist
-Cal O’Reilly-Steve Sullivan line. The trio has become Nashville’s most consistent offensive threat with 14 goals and 32 points through the team’s first 19 games, including the game-winning score in four of the team’s nine wins.
Hornqvist’s and Sullivan’s successes are nothing new to Preds fans. Hornqivst led the Preds with 30 goals last season and Sullivan has been 50-plus point threat his entire Predators career. But the performance of O’Reilly has raised eyebrows. A consistent AHL All-Star, O’Reilly entered training camp as a “bubble player” without a guaranteed role on the team.
“His game is evolving, not only physically, but mentally, too,” Trotz observed. “He sees what is available more often here than not. His pace in his game is better, he’s moving the puck and getting into good support positions. He’s getting more comfortable about his game. The things that he learned that weren’t working for him, he’s adjusted to this level. Things that were working for him in the minors are starting to work for him up here.”
Coach Trotz feels that Sullivan’s influence has started to rub off on O’Reilly.
“Sully has a good offensive mind. Sully has survived in this league as a smaller player by using his head and thinking the game. And he’s doing the same thing with Cal. You have two guys who can really think well and have a good skill set; they’re using each other playing a fast game. And they have a guy in Hornqvist who goes to the net hard. And then we have some pretty good offensively gifted defense that they’re learning to work in to the attack. They’re playing really well as a group of three.”
Sullivan has a firsthand view of O’Reilly’s development.
“I think Cal’s been given the opportunity and he’s making the best of it. He deserves a lot of credit for hanging in there and doing what he’s doing now. When you’re a young guy you have to try to figure it out, learn what you have to do to be successful at this level. It’s a little bit tougher than in the American League. You have to bring it every night up here. In the American League skill usually tends to take over and you just get points. In the NHL you have to work and some nights you don’t feel good and don’t feel your best, but you have to find a way to work and be at your best.”
O’Reilly gives his linemates much of the credit for making his transition so smooth this season.
“Sullivan brings so much – speed, smarts, skill; he can score, he can pass. He’s a great all-around player. Obviously Hornqvist, he goes to the net hard and can score; has a great shot, battles hard. They’re both great players and it’s been pretty easy to play with them. It’s been great.”