One player that wasn't a member of the Penguins when Pittsburgh and Nashville clashed last spring sure made his presence felt tonight. Through 60 minutes in the third game of the season on Saturday at PPG Paints Arena, a new fan favorite was born.
Ryan Reaves ignited noise of the crowd to playoff proportions reminiscent of the Stanley Cup Final between these teams just a few months prior. For his efforts, he was named First Star of the game, and his teammates also awarded them their MVP honor, which is in the form of a Steelers helmet this year.
And when the game concluded, he kept the mask on while he spoke to reporters - much to the delight of the media and his teammates.
But despite wearing the helmet, there was no hiding No. 75 for the Penguins tonight. He issued a game-high seven hits, dropped the mitts twice, and chipped in a goal - his first as a Penguin - to help elevate Pittsburgh to their first win of the season as they defeated the Preds 4-0, all in just 6:23 of ice time.
"He's a guy that when he's on the ice, our opponents take notice," head coach Mike Sullivan said. "He's a tough kid, he finishes checks, he plays the game hard, he sticks up for his teammates and he scored a goal tonight. I think that he's a guy that's going to be really valuable to our group. You play a game like tonight, a hard-fought game, I believe 'Reavo' has the ability to be a positive influence on our team."
The burly winger's efforts were appreciated by both his team and the Penguins faithful, as the fans began chanting Reaves' name throughout PPG Paints Arena after he fought with Nashville's Cody McLeod in the third period. It was a quality tilt between two heavyweights, the fourth time Reaves and McLeod have jousted.
"That was nice," Reaves said of the reception, adding with a smile, "You go out and trade for this prolific goal scorer and for two games I haven't done anything. So it was nice to get one and a couple fights for the fans. It was a good moment, it was fun."
While the goal was big, the biggest goal for Reaves was just to bring that emotion and energy that had been missing in the Penguins' 10-1 loss to Chicago on Thursday.
"The first two games were a little sluggish by me, especially trying to be the physical leader on this team," he said. "Dropped two games in a row and I think I took it upon myself to try and lead the way that way."
The 6-foot-1, 225-pound winger certainly did that, establishing a relentless forecheck early. He tangled with Scott Hartnell in the first period, and after being hit by the Predators' Austin Watson near Nashville's bench, engaged in his first fight as a Penguin.
Reaves' next shift, he accomplished another first in the black-and-gold sweater: his first goal. Reaves enthusiastically celebrated his deflected tally from the slot off an Olli Maatta point shot.
Acquired from St. Louis on a draft day trade in June, Reaves is coming off his best offensive output in his career, scoring seven goals and picking up six assists with the Blues last season. After tonight, he's definitely started building off that.
"They traded for a goal scorer," Reaves joked. "These last two summers I've definitely worked on my offensive skills, with the way the NHL is changing it's something you have to do. I don't want to become a dinosaur."
But he has become a legend.