PITTSBURGH — Injuries have plagued Zach Aston-Reese for most of the past 12 months. After being assaulted by Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson last May, Aston-Reese suffered a broken hand after a fight in February, then an undisclosed upper-body injury in March. The Pittsburgh Penguins star has played solid NHL hockey in fits and starts.
But he isn’t happy with his performance in Round One against the New York Islanders.
Aston-Reese returned to the lineup in Game One. He didn’t have a couple of regular season games to ramp up or get his feet beneath him. He simply shook his head when asked about his game.
“Not to make excuses for myself,” he said as his head shook back and forth. “But having to miss time right before the playoffs and come back right at the playoffs isn’t the easiest thing.”
Aston-Reese specifically noted parts of his game which have not been good and noted he made the costly turnover which sprung New York for their first goal in Game 3.
“Whenever there has been a body on me, my feet stop moving. I don’t power through like I was before the injury,” he said. “I’ve definitely had some blatant turnovers instead of just chipping the puck into open space.”
Aston-Reese, 24, may not be fully healthy, either. He skated for only a few days before joining the Penguins active game roster. Usually, players who miss a few weeks skate for longer and take contact drills for a couple of days before being tossed back into game action.
It’s not like the New York Islanders won’t put a body on the Penguins heavy rookie who can play well in the corners. In 43 regular season games, Aston-Reese had 17 points (8g, 9a). He helped Matt Cullen create a scoring threat on the Penguins fourth line before being elevated–with some success–to a line with Evgeni Malkin.
Aston-Reese is also one of the Penguins penalty killers and one of the players who figured to excel in the tight-checking, hard-fought series against New York. His re-acclimation has been a slower process, according to him, however.
Aston-Reese does not have a point in the series and is a minus-2.
“For me, it’s just a mindset of keeping my feet moving and simplifying my game,” he said.
The Penguins are searching for answers and line combinations for Game 4. Based on the morning skate, it appears Aston-Reese will rejoin Cullen on the fourth line with Garrett Wilson. Earlier this season, Aston-Reese praised Cullen for making the game simple for him and other young players.
It was the Penguins fourth line with Cullen and Wilson which scored the Penguins lone goal in Game 3.
“After we got the lead (in Game 3), I turned the puck over in the corner instead of just chipping it out of the zone,” Aston-Reese said as he put his hand to his chest.
The Penguins will need all hands on deck, not on chests for Game 4.