By some narrow definitions, Ryan Reaves is not good at hockey.
He doesn’t have a high Corsi rating or a stack of pucks with milestone goals. Instead, Reaves has other goals and other tasks, which this season have helped the Pittsburgh Penguins surge to the top of the Metropolitan Division.
His chief task is keeping Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin safe. After watching the Penguins dominate the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday with nary a questionable hit, perhaps we can admit that Reaves has provided cover for the Penguins stars.
“I really hope so,” Reaves told Pittsburgh Hockey Now.
How to Measure Deterrence?
Over the past few seasons, Columbus dished the most physical punishment to the Penguins. But, for those who watched the Penguins skate past the Blue Jackets, it was like waiting for the monster in the horror movie which never came. Frequent tormentor Brandon Dubinsky had six hits, but he didn’t engage in the usual extracurriculars. And, for the second time this season, the Blue Jackets did not take liberties with the Penguins stars.
In fact, the Penguins have suffered only one egregious cheap shot this season — Capitals forward T.J. Oshie‘s cross-check to Kris Letang‘s surgically-repaired neck.
So far, that seems to be a significant improvement.
Crosby has not missed a game this season. Malkin’s sat out just four games. There isn’t a published statistic for hits taken, cheap shots absorbed or a punishment index. So, the eye test is all that remains. Will anyone argue Crosby and Malkin have had an easier time in 2017-18?
Even if there were advanced stats, Reaves might not look.
“My analytics aren’t that good, so I try to stay away from them,” he laughed.
Ryan Reaves, Hockey Player
Perhaps Reaves should take a peek anyway.
Reaves currently has his best Corsi and Fenwick rating in five seasons. His Corsi rating is 47.9 percent, despite starting nearly 57 percent of his shifts in the defensive zone. Reaves’ Fenwick — which counts only shots that don’t get blocked — is almost 50 percent. His PDO (a mystical stat which tries to quantify offensive and defensive luck) is 94.9, with 100 as the baseline. That indicates Reaves could be due for a few bounces on the score sheet.
So, as the universe evens itself, Reaves should get a few more points in the stretch run. He hopes for more, too.
“This season hasn’t gone exactly how I wanted. I’d like to help a little bit more on the score sheet, but our line has been playing pretty well over the last couple weeks,” said Reaves. “When you want to make a run for the playoffs and have a good run in the playoffs, you need that depth, so I have to chip in.”
Reaves isn’t a ham-fisted thumper solely focused on beating up people, despite his notoriety. He is a hockey player.
Thoughts of Spring
Over the past month, the Penguins asserted themselves in the Metropolitan Division and the playoff race. If the Penguins make the playoffs is no longer a question. The big question will be what the Penguins do when they begin.
In the Penguins organization, it was a fervent belief the team could not take another pounding like 2017 and win the Stanley Cup. Once was enough for the Penguins, which were battered and bruised by opponents trying to slow them down.
Reaves understands his roles, but he won’t forget why the Penguins acquired him.
“You really see it in the playoffs, that’s when it really kind of amps up,” he said, smiling. “Watching the playoffs last year, they took a lot of abuse. So, hopefully, I can settle that down.”
The Penguins and Reaves have reasons to smile. The team is galloping towards another Stanley Cup, and general manager Jim Rutherford is working to make them even better, as the trade deadline approaches next Monday.
The Penguins and Reaves hope fewer bruises will mean more goals. So far, so good.