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Update: Zach Aston-Reese to IR, Garrett Wilson recalled

The Pens might need some reserves after injuries in the game against the Panthers

NHL: Florida Panthers at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Last night’s game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Florida Panthers got a bit chippy and Zach Aston-Reese was right in the middle of it.

“We were trying to play the game hard,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “Zach had a physical game. He was finishing checks. That’s when Zach’s at his best. Overall, we were just trying to play the game hard.”

One finished check resulted in an interference minor penalty when Aston-Reese clocked Frank Vatrano. The hit was late, but clean in the sense ZAR kept his arm tucked, kept his skates on the ice and didn’t elevate and didn’t target the head of his opponent.

Aston-Reese was challenged to a fight immediately after exiting the penalty box by Colton Sceviour. ZAR dropped Sceviour with a big right hand to the side of the head.

After serving his penalty for fighting, Aston-Reese departed the game and would not return. Following the game, the coach who never really gives specific updates on injury noted a “sense” that he would miss time.

That seems to suggest something obvious was identified like a broken knuckle/hand from the fight. That’s a real shame as Aston-Reese had four points (two goals and two assists) in a five game stretch entering last night’s game. Overall this season his six goals tie him for eight among Pens’ forwards and the 11 points tie him for ninth, making him an important “bottom-six” player.

Beyond the scoreboard, Pittsburgh would miss Aston-Reese in more ways to. His 101 hits are far and away the most among Pittsburgh forwards this season. His 27 blocked shots rank second for forwards and ZAR’s become an important cog on the penalty kill and has increased his average TOI per game up to 1:49 as the season goes on and he gets more responsibility.

The Pens depart for California and a lengthy five game road swing that will see them play all three Cali teams plus Vegas and Arizona. Without Aston-Reese and Hornqvist (who left the game and didn’t return after taking a puck in the chin/mouth area), the Pens would be down to 11 healthy forwards, so this could be an opportunity for Derek Grant to get back in the lineup and also possibly a call-up from Wilkes-Barre.

They’ve recently used Garrett Wilson and Jean-Sebastien Dea in the NHL, so those would probably be the two favored names — though it probably should be pointed out that Teddy Blueger does lead the AHL Pens in goals (16) and points (29) and is probably past due for an opportunity to play in the NHL. We’ll see how that goes but should Aston-Reese be as injured as the coach initially suggested it stands to reason a call-up will be needed soon for depth on the long road trip.

Update: yep, ZAR to IR