Pittsburgh Penguins fourth-line winger and protector Ryan Reaves scored a special goal and Zach Aston-Reese added a power-play tally as the Penguins beat the L.A. Kings, 3-1.
Bryan Rust was again denied an empty-netter, but Evgeni Malkin eventually scored into the empty net as a capacity crowd remained for the final celebration at PPG Paints Arena.
Like hitting a home run in front of Jackie Robinson, Reaves lit the lamp in front of Willie O’Ree, who broke the NHL color barrier in 1958. On Thursday morning, Reaves told O’Ree he would score a goal for him. And, Reaves did just that.
The Penguins’ aggressive forecheck led by Dominik Simon and Evgeni Malkin created a turnover in the Kings’ zone, six minutes into the second period. Reaves (4) intercepted the puck in the right-wing circle and put all 225 pounds behind the wrister.
Neither Malkin or Simon touched the puck, so it was an unassisted goal.
“First of all, I don’t promise goals. I cannot promise goals if you’ve seen my scoring touch. I said I was going to have a good game for him,” the ever enjoyable Reaves beamed. “It was pretty special. (O’Ree) is a pioneer for players like me and it was nice to get him one.”
Then Reaves looked to the stands and gave a standing ovation to O’Ree.
Mike Sullivan also address the topic when asked by 93.7 The Fan’s Jeff Hatthorn. “After that conversation Ryan had with him this morning, I’m sure it was a proud moment for both of them,” said Sullivan.
Penguins rookie winger Zach Aston-Reese scored the game-winner five minutes into the third period. After Dustin Brown earned a delay of game penalty for clearing the puck over the glass, Aston-Reese (3) created enough traffic in the crease for the deflection goal.
“It’s nice playing that spot. We had good movement and kept it simple. We got pucks to the net,” said Aston-Reese, who jokingly apologized for getting credit. “I don’t think it hit me,” he laughed
The goal allowed Aston-Reese to joke about a missed opportunity in the first period: A two-on-none with Sidney Crosby. Aston-Reese quickly passed to Crosby after crossing the blue line, but Crosby didn’t appear ready for the dish. Crosby tried to pass it back to Aston-Reese but the puck bounced, and a great scoring chance was a bad memory.
“I was thinking about that one for a little bit,” said Aston-Reese.
The Kings tied the game about one minute after Reaves’ second-period goal. On the power play, new Kings defenseman Dion Phaneuf crept behind the penalty killers for a tap-in goal.
Matt Murray made 34 saves. Jonathan Quick, who was figuratively forced to stand on his head, stopped 36 of 38 shots.
Postgame Analysis and Press Box Nachos
• Quick was outstanding. The Penguins had no less than a half-dozen glorious chances which became Quick saves or missed shots.
• There are differing opinions on the missed two-on-none in the first period with Crosby and Aston-Reese. Take my two cents and give change. Aston-Reese passed it too early, and Crosby was surprised. Crosby’s attempt to give it back to Aston-Reese resulted in a bouncing puck and a wasted opportunity.
• Reaves was strong from the beginning. He had a breakaway chance early in the game and a couple of other scoring chances. Penguins fans are going to realize Reaves’ value, in the same way which the Penguins already do, in the playoffs.
• Here’s Murray on the Penguins ability to play physical:
“I think our strength is our speed, but we don’t shy away from physical games like this one against a team that’s probably a lot bigger than us. Our guys go to the net hard against some pretty tough ‘D’ and get the job done.”
• Murray was also outstanding. It was the sixth time in his last eight games he made over 30 saves. Sullivan put it well: “He makes difficult saves look easy.”
No “Murray!” chants?
• The Penguins were able to win a lot of physical battles against the Kings. Jake Guentzel and Phil Kessel were quick to pressure the Kings breakout attempts to extend the play.
Yes, Jake Guentzel can say “message received.”
• Did anyone else see Crosby simply shrug off Anze Kopitar behind the net? Or Crosby bat a puck out of mid-air, but aim it at players in the slot in order to get a deflection on goal?
• The Penguins committed three defensive-zone giveaways in the first 10 minutes. It would have been four if the Kings didn’t fumble Kessel’s cross-ice pass. The Penguins adjusted faster Thursday night than they did Tuesday against the ever-patient Senators.
• The Kings were on the Penguins and the Penguins were on the Kings. Both teams played hard on the puck, took away space, but the level of skating and creativity didn’t lack. The Pens-Kings games lack the intensity of late-season Metro games, but the Kings are an excellent warmup for the coming battles.
• The Penguins’ speed is unmistakable with Carl Hagelin and Bryan Rust playing well. The Penguins have the look of a team getting ready for the playoffs. They will be a tough out.
We’ll learn a lot more Saturday when Toronto is here.