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Penguins

Zach Aston-Reese unites red states, blue states in Penguins victory

Jonathan Bombulie
| Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018, 5:33 a.m.
Pittsburgh Penguins’ Zach Aston-Reese (46) collides with Boston Bruins’ Chris Wagner (14) during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Friday, Dec. 14, 2018.
Pittsburgh Penguins’ Zach Aston-Reese (46) collides with Boston Bruins’ Chris Wagner (14) during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Friday, Dec. 14, 2018.

As it turns out, Pittsburgh Penguins winger Zach Aston-Reese is capable of reaching across the aisle.

Earlier this week, Aston-Reese said the difference between a top-six approach and bottom-six approach for a forward is similar to the difference between Democrats and Republicans in Congress. They both have the same goals. They just reach them in different ways.

Aston-Reese turned in an impressive bipartisan effort in Friday night’s 5-3 Penguins victory over the Boston Bruins, performing bottom-six functions like killing penalties but also filling a top-six niche by scoring a couple of goals.

“I thought he was physical,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “I thought he went to the net. He was shooting the puck. He defends hard. He was real good on the penalty kill. I thought it was his best game of the year. I really liked him playing with those two guys.”

Aston-Reese’s first goal came shorthanded early in the third period, which was a welcome change for a Penguins team that has allowed a league-high eight shorthanded goals this season.

Riley Sheahan started the play by pressuring the Boston point man and finishing his check. Brian Dumoulin nudged a puck ahead to Aston-Reese to start a two-on-break.

“When you take a guy out on the wall like that, it always creates an odd-man rush for the most part,” Aston-Reese said. “I gave it up to Riley. He drew the defender over and made a nice pass to me. I didn’t give the goalie too much time to set up. I tried to get it off as quick as possible.”

Aston-Reese’s second goal was an empty netter with 5.2 seconds to play. What was significant about the goal wasn’t the way it was scored. Sidney Crosby stiff-armed defenseman Torey Krug on the right wing to get the time and space necessary to set up Aston-Reese in front. It was that Aston-Reese was on the ice in that situation in the first place.

“Getting that opportunity is nice,” Aston-Reese said. “The other night in New York, being able to play on the four-on-three kill in overtime, it’s a good confidence boost that the coaches trust me in those situations.”

At even strength, Aston-Reese played left wing on a line with Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel. He said he got over being star-struck playing with high-end linemates last season and now focuses on bringing a blue-collar approach to the unit.

“I thought I brought a little bit of a physical element tonight,” Aston-Reese said. “That was something that was kind of said to me going into tonight’s matchup.”

Follow the Pittsburgh Penguins all season long.

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan at jbombulie@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.

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