Ryan O’Reilly’s hockey stick has gone cold, but the lumber he uses for self-flagellation is on fire.
The Sabres’ lone All-Star is prone to beating himself up in the best of times. This is far from that. He has no goals and a minus-10 rating over the last 11 games, so he broke out the whuppin’ stick Friday.
“I’ve been very frustrated with myself the last few games,” O’Reilly said after preparing for Saturday’s game in Boston. “The last handful of them, I don’t think I’ve been anywhere near where I want to be. I’ve been terrible in my own end. I haven’t been creating as much offense. I don’t know if it was just maybe luck early on in the season, but I think I have a lot to learn going forward.
“I’ve had the game on my stick in a lot of different areas and not stepped up and made the big plays, which is the kind of pressure and stuff I want to do. I have a lot of work to do in getting back to where I need to be and help the team win.”
O’Reilly was among the NHL’s top players for the first three months of the season, and he still ranks in a tie for 24th with 42 points in 52 games. But after being on pace to obliterate his career record of 28 goals, he’s been stuck on 17 since scoring Jan. 8 in Chicago. The pace has slipped to 27.
“Maybe it’s just back to reality and maybe I’m not the goal scorer I thought I was,” O’Reilly said in HarborCenter. “I have to find a new way because these are key points that we need, and I have to help.”
O’Reilly, who leads NHL forwards in ice time at 21:54 per game, insists fatigue has not set in.
“I feel great going into every game,” said the 24-year-old. “It’s not fatigue at all. It’s something I’m trying to figure out. I don’t know why I’m not having success.”
Coach Dan Bylsma has increased his chats with the center in an attempt to ease O’Reilly’s mind and find a cure for the deficiencies.
“I probably talk to him more now than I did in the first 25 games,” Bylsma said. “He’s hard on himself. It doesn’t take much for him to be critical of his execution level and missing opportunities. You can see that almost at any time.
“Right now you get in a situation when you’re squeezing a little tight and need to relax a little bit and let the play come to him.”
O’Reilly had an opportunity to find the net Thursday during the 3-2 shootout loss to the Bruins. As the Sabres’ final shooter, he failed to get a good shot and fell to 0 for 5 in the breakaway challenge this season.
“I’m definitely frustrated there,” O’Reilly said. “It’s embarrassing that I haven’t put one in yet. I’ve had the game on my stick very many times and not pulled through.
“It’s frustrating, and I have to be better.”
He entered the year 10 for 23 in his career on shootouts.
“Every year is different, and you have to find a new way to put it in,” he said. “The stuff that’s worked from the past isn’t working now. I love that pressure, but I’m not having success with it. It’s definitely a big reason why we don’t get those extra points.”
O’Reilly is far from alone in his shootout troubles:
• The Sabres are 1-4 in shootouts. Only Toronto and New Jersey have lost more (five).
• The skaters are 2 for 17. Matt Moulson is 1 for 2 and Tyler Ennis is 1 for 3. Evander Kane (three attempts), Jack Eichel (two), Brian Gionta and Zemgus Girgensons (one each) have been blanked along with O’Reilly.
• Goaltenders Chad Johnson and Linus Ullmark have combined for a .667 save percentage, with the opponents scoring on five of 15 shots.
• The Sabres went 2 for 5 in their lone shootout win Oct. 21 against Toronto. They are 0 for 12 in the last four outings.
“We feel like we’re going with guys that can deliver and get the job done,” Bylsma said. “As a coach, I feel like I’ve got to come up with some better answers for that.
“I ding myself for choices I make, and I’m putting the guys out there. We watch a lot in practice and dictate a lot of who we go to with what we see in practice. I have the stats. I know the previous attempts. I know their careers and their histories, so that plays into it. But right now we even talked about deferring and shooting second and letting the goalie make the first save and taking a little pressure off our shooters.”
Bylsma was asked why he’s used Eichel in just two of the five games. He said the rookie center was fourth on the list Thursday, but the game ended after three chances.
“He’s had two attempts that he didn’t make, and then we watch him in practice and see how he’s doing in practice,” Bylsma said. “If you haven’t been around for some of the lengthier ones, he’s been at the end a fair amount of times. You’d like to see that shot and that move cash in because it is an outstanding shot and he has great moves.”
The strange part about the shootout failures is the Sabre practice breakaways extensively, more so than during previous seasons.
“We try to put guys in situations in practice with a little bit of pressure, a little bit of competition,” Bylsma said. “That hasn’t come through for us in the game yet.”