With the NHL postseason just over two weeks away, the Penguins are becoming healthy at the right time. Dominik Simon returned to the lineup just a few days ago vs. the Devils, and now his teammate Zach Aston-Reese may be following suit sometime this week — potentially as early as tonight in a tilt with the Red Wings.
Though many have been anticipating seeing him back on the ice, it’s obvious that Aston-Reese, himself, has been waiting for what seems like forever, anxious and itching to make his return. Before getting hurt during practice at the end of February, Aston-Reese had finally found his rhythm and confidence, playing what he described as his best hockey since the end of December or early January.
“I took a few games to adjust up here, but I thought I was getting better each game,” Aston-Reese told the Post-Gazette. “(Getting injured) is part of the game. I’ve dealt with it before in college and stuff.”
Aston-Reese has gone on record to mention that he hasn’t missed a step since getting labeled with a “longer-term” upper-body injury and claims his conditioning and play on the ice hasn’t sipped away too much. He hopes that his transition back is seamless.
In the final six games he played in before getting knocked out of the lineup, Aston-Reese posted four goals and five points, and even saw time up on the first line with Sidney Crosby. There’s no doubt the 23-year-old is a talented guy, and it wouldn’t be surprising to seem him shuffled up and down the lineup on either side of the wing position.
Though, odds are we see Aston-Reese placed down on the fourth line with Simon and Riley Sheahan to try and kick-start some offensive juices and solidify Pittsburgh as a club able to run four deadly lines. He’s been utilized as a penalty killer as well and could replace Tom Kuhnhackl on the struggling PK. Carter Rowney is still out long-term (not that that’s a huge blow to the team), Josh Jooris was re-assigned to the AHL, and the top three lines have found success in their current forms as of late. The Penguins want opposing teams to struggle with its offensive depth, and Aston-Reese with provide skill on the bottom line that’s tough to match up with.
It goes without saying that getting ZAR back into the lineup would be huge for the Penguins as they make their final push to the playoffs.