I was happy to see Ryan O’Reilly chip in the game’s only goal on Thursday night in the third period of the Blues’ 1-0 win over visiting Arizona.
The Blues needed it. The swarming Blues buzzed and blitzed the bewildered Coyotes with overwhelming force. At 5-on-5 play, the Blues had 77 percent of the shots on goal, 63 percent of the scoring chances and 78.4% of the high-danger opportunities. The Blues were fierce but couldn’t finish. We’ve seen that a lot lately.
Ryan O’Reilly needed that goal, too. It was only his third score since the start of 2020, a span of 21 games.
O’Reilly is an outstanding player in so many ways, and I don’t think any NHL player works harder. He’s the reigning Selke Trophy winner in recognition of his defensive prowess. He’s the silky passer who ranks 17th among NHL forwards with 90 assists over the last two seasons. He’s won 56 percent of his faceoffs as a Blue. He’s logged more minutes than all but NHL forwards in the last two seasons. And O’Reilly was awarded the Conn Smythe for his skill, production and leadership during the 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs. This is a special Blue.
But the Blues are a better team when O’Reilly consistently lurks and swoops as a scoring threat. That part of his all-around game has been lean this season.
• O’Reilly scored 28 goals last regular season, and has 11 goals with 21 games remaining this season. That total was second among Blues forwards in 2019-20. This season his 11 goals are tied for sixth among Blues forwards
• At even strength O’Reilly scored 21 goals last season, tied for first among his fellow STL forwards. But he has only eight even-strength goals through 61 games this season; that’s tied for seventh among Blues forwards.
• At 5-on-5, O’Reilly has scored only six goals all season, tied for 10th among Blues forwards. He scored 18 such goals last season, second among Blues forwards.
• To parse this another way: last season O’Reilly averaged 0.99 goals per 60 minutes — but that rate has dropped to 0.52 per 60 this season.
The issue isn’t a matter of talent; O’Reilly has banked 20 or more goals in a season five times. It isn’t a matter of effort; this dude is as dedicated as a player can be.
O’Reilly just needs to shoot the puck more often. Maybe he’s being too unselfish? Maybe he’s more concerned with setting up teammates to score goals instead of scoring them himself? It’s hard to fault a center for being generous with his puck and creating scoring chances for his mates.
But I’d like to see O’Reilly fire away. With Vladimir Tarasenko still out following early-season shoulder surgery, the Blues need goals. And O’Reilly can make an impact with his goal-scoring touch.
The statistics on this are glaring.
Last season O’Reilly averaged 8.3 shots per 60 minutes including 8.25 shots per 60 at 5-on-5.
This season: O’Reilly is averaging 5.1 shots per 60 minutes including 4.57 shots per 60 at even strength. Last season that even-strength average was 8.33 shots per 60, third-highest among regular Blues forwards.
This season no regular Blues forward is shooting fewer times (per 60) than O’Reilly at even strength. And his rate of 4.57 even-strength shots per 60 puts him at No. 304 among 317 NHL forwards that have played at least 500 minutes this season.
Before O’Reilly scored the big winner on Thursday night, he’d averaged only 2.26 even-strength shots per 60 minutes in his previous seven games.
O’Reilly sets a positive example in his team-first ethic. That’s why he’s so respected by teammates, and adored by the fans. But he’s being too kind to opposing-team goaltenders. Shoot it, brother O’Reilly. Make those goalies work. Make the crowd roar.
Including Sunday’s frustrating 2-1 loss at Nashville, the Blues have controlled the action in a commanding manner over their last three games.
In the games against Nashville, New Jersey and Arizona, in all situations, the Blues had 69 percent of the shots, 65 percent of the scoring chances and 67% of the high-danger chances.
Alas, The Note scored on only six percent of their overall scoring chances (4-for-98) and on 8.6% of their high-danger chances (3-for-35.)
Over the past three games Zach Sanford, Jaden Schwartz, Oskar Sundvist, Sammy Blais, Robert Thomas, Jordan Kyrou and David Perron had 56 combined scoring chances — and scored only goal, by Schwartz against NJ.
The two-game winning streak gives the Blues a 4-7-3 record in their last 14 games. They’re averaging only 2.9 goals per game during this stretch. That includes 2.14 goals per game at 5v5 play.
As always, a big thanks to Natural Stat Trick for the valuable help with the scoring-chance, high-danger chance and shooting-rate stats used in this column.
Thanks for reading…