The Amerk’s were able to squeak out a close one in overtime tonight with a 3-2 win. Justin Bailey blazed into the zone, beat his man on the wing, and deeked the keeper to get the overtime winner. For his goal he earned the first star of the night.
In my opinion, the real star of the show was Taylor Fedun. His ability to skate the puck effectively makes him the offensive catalyst the Amerks need on the point. He made beautiful stretch passes to start the breakout; including one gorgeous pass from behind his net, through the neutral zone, onto the stick of his right winger. With him on the point, power play zone entry was flawless. In Fedun’s absence this has been a glaring weakness. When he did not skate the puck past centre ice, he was able to draw find an easy entry pass. He assisted on the first Amerks goal, and scored the go-ahead goal on a nice top-shelf wrister. I also think Erik Burgdoerfer played a great game. He made several heads up plays in the defensive zone, and is evolving into a key blue liner.
Unfortunately, I was less than impressed with what I saw from the captain. I am going to give Cal O’Reilly a C- against the Ice Caps. I set a very high bar for Cal. He went into the game as the Amerks leading point scorer with a team high 20 assists. On a line centering Nick Baptiste and Cole Schneider, high production is a must. However, tonight the Amerks top line was not able to muster a single point.
Offensively Cal did numerous things right. He was very calm under pressure and executed several nice passes in tight windows. He made a few solid back passes early in the first to set up good shots from the point. O’Reilly had a nice give and go with Baptiste that led to a nice low shot from 13. However, it was a slew of miscues made by Cal that ultimately defined the captains frustrating night. Twice early on he was dispossessed trying to stick handle through defenders.
He was the beneficiary of a great pass in the slot that left him 1 on 1 with the goalie. Instead of coolly pick out the open far post with a well-placed wrist shot, (Maybe I have been spoiled by Baptiste) he fired a clumsy slap shot right into the belly of the waiting Ice Cap goalie. He had similar opportunity later in the game on the left wing with a defender trailing him. He elected not to shoot at all; opting instead to fling a spinning no look pass across the slot. Unfortunately, the only Ice Cap defenders were in the area. It was not the only time he showed an aversion to shooting the puck. On the power play Cal passed up several chances to take shots. He needs to be more aggressive and establish himself as a threat to shoot.
Defensively I don’t think O’Reilly put forth enough effort to play an effective two way game. Cal receives a lot of ice time on a nightly basis. It seemed obvious from his first two shifts that he was conserving energy on the defensive end. He let Baptiste and Schneider do the lion’s share of the fore-checking work. In the defensive zone I thought he was slow to loose pucks all night, and didn’t get his body in front of enough shots.
Because he was conserving so much energy in the defensive zone I expected O’Reilly to turn his night around and make a play when the game was in the balance. Unfortunately, in the closing moments he seemed frustrated and was wasn’t able make anything happen. The only way O’Reilly grew into the game tonight was in the face off circle. After a mediocre start he won almost all of his draws in the third period.
Overall Cal O’Reilly is a fantastic AHL player. However in my opinion he will never be able to consistently play effective hockey at the NHL level. Because he isn’t a two way player Cal does not play a style of hockey that makes him a fit as a 3rd or 4th line player. And without a dynamic shot he does not fit the mold of a top 6 forward either. O’Reilly is the ideal AHL captain. He makes the players around him better and there is no indication he will be called up anytime soon.