If there was one constant in the 2018-19 season for the St. Louis Blues, it was Ryan O’Reilly.
The man was a legit workhorse, playing defenseman-type minutes and putting up the best numbers of his career. O’Reilly matched his career in goals, put up 77 points, played all 82 games, and is up for the Selke Trophy. More importantly, and impressively, he was the best center on the face-off dot in the NHL.
It’s that kind of production that can lead fans to generate unreal expectations when a player nears 100 games played on the season when the playoffs reach two rounds of age. During the first four games against the Dallas Stars, O’Reilly hasn’t been himself. While he has four points, two in Game 4 alone, O’Reilly’s facebook prowess has disappeared against the Stars’ Tyler Seguin.
He’s won just 42% of the draws against the Dallas Star, which has in turn cut into the Blues offensive machine churning out goals and pressure in the zone. There are rumors that O’Reilly is nursing an injury, but then again, how many players are even 90% right now in the league? Brett Hull once played a game in the Stanley Cup Finals with two torn groin muscles. If O’Reilly’s wrist is hurting, he won’t dare use it as an excuse, so let’s just stop that crap.
I’ve also noticed O’Reilly doesn’t have that burst of speed on his shifts. Now, he isn’t one of the faster players in the league, but he was one of those guys who could get ahead of another player, set up a play, and seal a goal before the defense could find out what was happening. During part of the Winnipeg Jets series and the Dallas series thus far, he hasn’t done that as often. The Stars are staging their defensive front around stopping him, but that’s not fresh news. The difference is their plan of attack is working.
Like it or not, O’Reilly hasn’t been himself lately. He’s not putting pucks in the net, and he’s not first to the corners and into the neutral zone at the moment. That computer chip brain isn’t firing on all cylinders, and it’s hurting the Blues. While Vladimir Tarasenko has a couple power play goals this series, he hasn’t been as effective, and one could point to O’Reilly lack of control and dominance as a cause there.
It’s quite simple. The Blues offense goes where O’Reilly goes, and right now, it’s stagnant far too often in games. This isn’t placing the entire blame on the former Buffalo Sabre, but it’s stating how a single body can power a team’s offense. For the Blues this season, it’s O’Reilly.
While he is contributing and staying off milk carton status, O’Reilly has to find a way to better on the face-off dot, be able to shut down the best players on the Stars, and help his teammates thrive. The problem with being a complete player is when you fall short in an area or two, it stands out and can be detected. With O’Reilly, it’s not just a wicked shot, a great forecheck, or an ability to do one thing excellently. He does a number of things on the ice, at both ends, at a high level. Fixing a couple of things will lead to more Blues wins.
If O’Reilly wakes up and becomes that guy from the regular season and parts of the Winnipeg series, the Blues win this thing in six games and are dangerous against the San Jose Sharks or Colorado Avalanche. If he continues to struggle, this team is doomed and finished. House money and all, it’ll be over quick.
Once again, if he is hurt, then you have a excuse-but that won’t find its way into being a valid reason. A LOT of players are hurting right now. The majority of the remaining NHL teams are playing with some kind of ailment or strain. A hairline fracture right now isn’t big injury news; it’s tape it, treat it, and soldier on.
Here’s what I think. O’Reilly is going to find a way to be better on the dot and reclaim that dominance on the ice. Smart players always do. They pop the hood, tweak a few things, and get back to where they were at before the stagnant settled in.
The Blues need a better O’Reilly if they wish to keep up the pursuit of their first Stanley Cup. I have faith in the guy.
How about you?