The Pittsburgh Penguins have a ton of star power in their lineup. With the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang looking to make one last cup run and rising stars in Jake Guentzel, Bryan Rust and John Marino on board, it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle.
The Penguins are off to a weird start in 2021. They only have 2 regulation wins, have trailed in every game and yet have a winning record. Their goaltending has been a major issue, the defense hasn’t seen it’s full complement of players since the first week of the season and the team hasn’t scored with any regularity. The first line (Guentzel-Crosby-Rust) is really starting to find their groove. The second line (Zucker-Malkin-Kapanen) is still working to find their rhythm. A huge question, and one we’ve had since the off-season is “Where will this team find secondary scoring?”
Zach Aston-Reese returned from shoulder surgery last week and has immediately made an impact. He’s scored 3 goals in 3 games and has allowed the team to reunite their most consistent line from the 2020 season. Playing alongside Teddy Blueger and Brandon Tanev, the Penguins have their best defensive line back together. The question is can they chip in more offensively than last year to give the team the secondary scoring they need?
Tanev is off to a good start with 4 goals. ZAR as mentioned has 3, and Blueger has 2 of his own. This is a line that is so imposing on their opponents and spends most of their shifts in the offensive zone. That is great and all but they have to capitalize on that zone time and actually create chances. It’s something they’ve done in a small sample size together this season. Zach Aston-Reese’s return stabilized the bottom 6 to a degree (the 4th line is a mess) and gives both Blueger and Tanev a boost.
The one guy I’m genuinely curious to see how his return impacts is Jared McCann. You simply can’t break up the ZAR-Blueger-Tanev line right now. That leaves McCann to play with some combination of Jankowski, Lafferty, Sceviour, O’Connor. Not exactly an ideal situation for him.
New front office members Ron Hextall and Brian Burke better get to work on improving that bottom 6 in some way. They need to put Jared McCann in a position to play with guys who can help him create some type of offense. McCann has 20+ goal potential, but he won’t sniff that with is current linemates. While Blueger, Tanev and ZAR are a capable third line, imagine if they could operate as the fourth line.
Aston-Reese helps, but he isn’t the answer
In short, Zach Aston-Reese has been a welcome addition and one that was desperately needed. While he is certainly proving to be a key piece, he isn’t the final piece though. While health ultimately may be what the Penguins need more than anything, improvements in the bottom 6 and stability in net will be on the team’s radar as the deadline approaches.