Reid Cashman’s toes on his left foot are painted black with bruises, but he doesn’t mind.
The bruises are one of the signs that Cashman, who was recalled from Wheeling on Wednesday for his third stint with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins this season, has returned to the AHL a different player. He is more confident, more comfortable and knows his role.
So how do the bruises signify all that?
The answer lies in the manner they occurred.
With the Penguins down 1-0 in the second period Wednesday against the Binghamton Senators, Cashman and his teammates skated back to defend a rush into their end. As the puck carrier skated toward Cashman, he quickly waved to his teammates to cover the other forwards before promptly sliding onto the ice to block a shot – with his toes.
The Penguins immediately pounced on the loose puck and took the play back up the ice after Cashman squelched the scoring threat. They went on to win the game, 3-1, and the play confirmed that Cashman, in his first game back from Wheeling, now had the confidence to take charge on the ice along with the ability that the Penguins knew was there all along.
“Communicating and being vocal are important, especially for a younger guy. The veterans expect the defense to call out the backcheck. If I wasn’t vocal I think I’d find myself back in the stands,” Cashman said.
And the stands are a familiar place that Cashman hopes to avoid. In his 40 games with the Penguins this season, he was a healthy scratch 25 times.
He was also the odd man out, despite scoring game-winning goals in consecutive games, when Pittsburgh reassigned Alex Goligoski on Feb. 7.
Considering how things transpired at the time, one couldn’t blame Cashman if he felt slighted.
He scored the game-winning goal on Feb. 3 against Philadelphia and again on Feb. 6 in overtime against San Antonio. On Feb. 7, Goligoski returned and the next day Cashman was in Wheeling.
The door was wide open for Cashman to start a fuss, but the thought never crossed his mind.
“When Alex Goligoski comes down, that pushes somebody out,” he said. “I understand that part of the business and it’s my job to go down there (Wheeling) and earn a call-up back up here.”
Sending Cashman to Wheeling was the first send-down for new Penguins coach Todd Reirden – one that he said was extremely tough.
“He got caught in a numbers game with Alex coming down. I really liked his game a lot of nights and I think he was gaining confidence,” Reirden said. “But he went down to Wheeling and just built on what he had done here.”
Now that Cashman is confident and comfortable… and most importantly back in the AHL, he is looking forward to continuing that building process.
This season Cashman has two goals and three assists in his first 14 AHL games and those numbers are likely to rise as Reirden said he intends to use him on the power play.
Cashman admits scoring back-to-back game-winning goals helped his confidence, but even if the goals never occurred he would still feel the same way. Consistency, he said, is bigger than the two goals.
“Those goals were great, don’t get me wrong, but I feel good about putting shift after shift together rather than being sporadic.
“That was an issue my first two years of pro hockey – inconsistency. Earlier this season I wanted to be aggressive, be successful, and sometimes you’re not as comfortable and you don’t know what your role is,” Cashman said.
“Now, I’m pretty comfortable on the ice and I’m feeling good about the way I play.”
And he even has the bruised toes to prove it.