“Definitely not shooting enough. I haven’t really looked too much–the last time I checked, my shot total wasn’t very high,” Zach Aston-Reese said before the Pittsburgh Penguins rallied to beat the Arizona Coyotes 6-3 at PPG Paints Arena.
Aston-Reese was still playing on the fourth line when PHN asked the simple question: Is there one thing you need to get a few more goals?
In 37 games this season, including the subsequent back-to-back extra-time losses to the Seattle Kraken and Detroit Red Wings, respectively, and the regulation loss to the LA Kings, Aston-Reese has only 39 shots.
He has one shot in three of his last five games and none in the other two. Aston-Reese got the bump up in the Penguins lineup on Sunday against LA. He played beside Jeff Carter on the third line. Though PHN noted an Aston-Reese deflection in the first period (which could have been scored a shot), he didn’t register a shot on goal.
Aston-Reese, 27, has eight points (1-7-8) which is otherwise good work for a fourth-line defensive specialist, but even he will admit that he has more to give. His mindset to be a defensive rock limits his game, even in the offensive zone.
“Since it hasn’t been going in for me, (I’m) just kind of in such a defensive mindset, even in the offensive zone, not really thinking too much about offense,” said Aston-Reese. “(I need to start) putting myself in scoring positions or shooting positions–(I’m) kind of always worrying about defense a little bit too much. So I think kind of slowly changing that mindset (will lead to goals).”
Even in the more formalized setting of speaking from the stage instead of his locker stall, Aston-Reese remains one of the more affable and honest Pittsburgh Penguins players. Ask a question. Get an answer.
It’s not entirely doom and gloom for the former undrafted free agent who signed with the Penguins after tearing it up on the stat sheets at Northeastern. Eight points is a healthy sum, as is his reliable defensive contribution.
Aston-Reese starts only 34% of his shifts in the offensive zone, which means head coach Mike Sullivan’s assignment is to prevent opposing goals.
As Sullivan said about fourth-line center Brian Boyle last week, “I don’t put him in a good position to score…”
The same applies to Aston-Reese, but he could do more. If he sticks beside Carter while Kasperi Kapanen finds his game on the fourth line, he will have to do more. He showed the talent last season with a career-high nine goals despite the shortened 56-game season.
“I know I’m very capable of being good defensively–(I need to be) more aware in the offensive zone and put myself in better positions and stay at the net front, hold on to pucks down low instead of trying to cycle it all the time. You know, little things like that,” Aston-Reese concluded.
Zach Aston-Reese Pedigree
The 6-foot, 204-pound forward has the size to be a power forward. And he has hands. In his final season at Northeastern, he scored 63 points, including 31 goals. But that was five seasons ago. In his first 51 professional games with the WBS Penguins, spread over the end of the 2016-17 season and beginning of 2017-18, he scored a respectable 12 goals.
And last year, nine goals in 45 games was a pace befitting a player with more to give.
Aston-Reese has often limited himself to a singular role. Some players like to be great in one facet rather than good in several. The Pittsburgh Penguins score more goals than they allow when Aston-Reese is on the ice (+4) but now is his chance to add a few on the scoreboard, too.
Playing beside Carter offers opportunity, but also responsibility to get to the net, make plays in the offensive zone, and even light the lamp a few times.
Zach Aston-Reese has gone through extended negotiations and narrowly avoided arbitration twice in his previous four years. He’s a UFA after this season when his $1.725 million deal expires. He signed for slightly less than perceived market value and is an integral cog in the Penguins’ bottom-six lines.
But a few more goals wouldn’t hurt.