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Penguins finish preseason without a single fighting major

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New York Rangers’ Cody McLeod (8) lands a punch on New York Islanders’ Scott Mayfield (24) as they fight during the first period of a preseason NHL hockey game, Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018, in Bridgeport, Conn.

Late in the first period of Friday night’s Pittsburgh Penguins preseason finale in Columbus, after a contentious stretch of play, winger Zach Aston-Reese grabbed Blue Jackets center Pierre-Luc Dubois with bad intentions.

Aston-Reese shook off his gloves, fully expecting a fight to develop.

Linesmen quickly stepped in to diffuse the situation, though, and no punches were thrown.

That was probably mildly disappointing for Aston-Reese, a hard-nosed player who had three fights in the AHL last season. He wants to make it known that toughness is part of his game.

It also ensured the Penguins would go an entire six-game preseason without recording a single fighting major.

When coach Mike Sullivan played in the NHL in the 1990s and into the 2000s, a team going a whole preseason without a fight would have been unheard of. Heck, a team going a few consecutive periods without fisticuffs was rare.

These days, the stat didn’t surprise Sullivan in the least.

“I just think the game is really evolving. The game is changing in that regard,” Sullivan said. “I haven’t watched a lot of exhibitions of other teams around the league, but the ones I’ve watched, I haven’t seen a fight. I don’t know if we’re the only team in that exclusive category.”

They’re not. The Penguins are one of seven NHL teams without a single preseason fight. League wide, there have been 28 fights in exhibition games so far.

By way of comparison, according to hockeyfights.com, there were 126 fights in the 2000-01 preseason, the first year for which the website has exhibition records.

Some personnel changes have also contributed to the Penguins’ preseason pacifism.

Ryan Reaves was dealt away at the trade deadline last season. Tom Sestito retired over the summer. Jamie Oleksiak, at 6-foot-7, can take on whatever heavyweight chores need to be handled. Aston-Reese is a game middleweight.

Otherwise, the gloves are generally going to stay on.

“I also think part of it is the identity of our team and the makeup of our team,” Sullivan said. “We’re not a team that’s going to drop gloves a lot. We’re going to try to play the game between the whistles and we’re going to try to use our power play as a deterrent.”

Follow the Pittsburgh Penguins all season long.

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan at [email protected] or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.

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