BUFFALO – This has been a different kind of slump for Ryan O’Reilly. When the Sabres center started the season slowly, he said he was “invisible,” contributing nothing.
O’Reilly eventually got going, scoring seven goals in 13 games. But after his last goal Nov. 17, he hit another rut. Right now, the veteran has an 12-game goal drought.
“It’s lack of confidence and lack of trusting myself again,” O’Reilly said prior to setting up Kyle Okposo’s goal in Tuesday’s 3-2 win against the Ottawa Senators inside KeyBank Center.
But unlike October, O’Reilly believes he has limited his slump to just the offensive side.
“It’s a lot different than the start of the year,” he said. “At the start of the year, I don’t think I was doing anything, right? I still think I’ve done well being hard to play against, which is good and which I want to have.
“But the offense part is definitely missing again, and that’s creativity and trusting myself. In (these) situations, I just keep thinking too much and don’t create. I got to find a way out of it. Every time it’s different, you got to reinvent yourself. That’s what I need to do, I got to reinvent my game and get a spark, because we need it.”
Overall, O’Reilly had OK offensive numbers – seven goals and 19 points along with a wretched minus-16 rating – in 30 games entering Tuesday. That’s a 19-goal, 52-point pace over 82 contests.
Remember, O’Reilly, 26, is in the second season of a seven-year, $52.5 million contract.
O’Reilly, of course, is notoriously hard on himself. He said he needs to “get out of his own head” and “be clear.” Still, he likes putting pressure on himself.
“That pressure is going to force me to work harder,” he said.
Sabres coach Phil Housley said O’Reilly has been “doing the right things.”
“He’s playing in both ends of the rink … been really good on the forecheck,” he said. “I’d like him to shoot the puck a lot more. I think he’s got a really good release and a hard one to read from a goaltender’s standpoint.”
O’Reilly had 76 shots entering Tuesday, 2.5 a game. He averaged 2.6 shots a contest last season.
He said generating more time in the offensive zone and playing “a little heavier” could buoy his offense.
“Using my body and protecting the puck more instead of looking for these little plays that I think come once you establish the heavy game,” he said.
Sabres winger Zemgus Girgensons played 301 NHL games over nearly four and a half seasons before experiencing his first benching.
Naturally, sitting twice as a healthy scratch last week felt unusual for Girgensons, who has zero goals in his last 21 outings.
“I’ve been there injured, but it was definitely different being scratched, not a good feeling,” Girgensons said. “It makes you feel a little bit useless, you always want to be out there. It’s a good learning curve never wanting to be back there.”
Girgensons, 23, impressed Housley enough in his return, Sunday’s 3-2 overtime loss in St. Louis, to earn a promotion to left wing beside O’Reilly and Okposo on Tuesday.
“He was just tenacious on the forecheck, really physical, demanding the puck, making the right decisions in the neutral zone and just brought a really good energy to our team,” Housley said of Girgensons’ performance Sunday. “He’s got to continue to do that, he can be a force out there when he’s skating and being physical. I like that he’s getting to the net hard right now, he’s tough to play against.”
What was Housley’s message to Girgensons after getting scratched?
“Just (my) all-around (game), more physical, more a shot mentality,” the Latvian said. “I definitely have not been getting enough pucks to the net.”
Girgensons said he wants to do the “dirty work” for his linemates and “make their life easy.”
“I’m the working guy trying to outwork, get the loose pucks, get it to them,” he said.
Notes: The Sabres made one lineup change, inserting winger Jordan Nolan for rookie Hudson Fasching, who has zero points in four games since getting recalled. … The Sabres also scratched defensemen Nathan Beaulieu and Victor Antipin (healthy). Beaulieu has been skating and is day-to-day after battling the flu, Housley said.