By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
David Pastrnak might have the most deceptive stat line I’ve ever seen.
Through 10 postseason games, Pastrnak ranks second among Boston skaters in points (seven) and third in goals (three).
And though the following sees us play the often-silly game of devaluing production to prove a point, it feels worth mentioning that those first two goals came in a 2:09 stretch in Boston’s Game 4 victory in the first round over the Maple Leafs, while the third came off his skate in last Saturday’s Game 2 loss to the Blue Jackets. These goals weren’t the result of dominant performances from the fourth-year pro. (In fact, had it not been for the goals, you would have considered them an extra pair of no-shows in a playoff run full of them for far too many of Boston’s top-tier talents.)
Pastrnak’s production has basically been the result of a quick burst and a fortunate bounce off a skate.
It’s simply not good enough for a goal-starved Bruins squad.
Forget the stats. Just use your eyes and it’s clear that Pastrnak is straight-up lost in the woods. Watch his Game 3 performance — and his playoff performance as a whole, actually — and it stares you in the face as an undeniable fact.
He’s getting knocked off the puck more than he did when he was a fresh-faced rookie in 2015, his compete when confronted with defensive pressure isn’t what it was when he was a downright elite goal-scoring talent for the Bruins this season, and his decision-making just seems painfully off. These struggles — across the board, really — were confirmed on a third period rush that saw Charlie McAvoy fight through four Columbus skaters to gain the offensive zone before he dished it off to Pastrnak along the wall. And with fresh bodies coming over the boards and joining the rush, Pastrnak spun and threw a hip-height pass towards a slot without a Boston skater in sight. The Jackets easily corralled that wild pass, pushed the puck right out of danger and back towards the B’s zone, and that potential game-tying chance went out the window.
“We’ve lost two games in a row. It’s tough. I don’t really wanna talk about myself,” Pastrnak told reporters following Boston’s Game 3 loss. “I’m not focusing on if I score a goal or not… I’m doing my best.”
“He’s trying to score goals, play his game, still be a good 200-foot player in other areas,” Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said of Pastrnak’s struggles, which have not been solved by a reunion with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. “[Pastrnak]’s going to play with [Bergeron] at some point in the game. It’s inevitable, generally speaking, unless everyone’s going perfect.”
Nothing is going right for the Czech-born winger who dominated last year’s postseason, and everybody knows it.
But it’s a problem that come with a clear-cut solution for Cassidy.
The first solution thrown out there is a blunt one: Scratch him. Give him a game in the press box and see if it wakes him up or gives him some time to heal. It’s ancient history now, but ex-B’s coach Claude Julien did this to Phil Kessel back in 2008, and Kessel responded with three goals in two games upon his return before the Bruins dropped a decisive Game 7 in Montreal. Cassidy hasn’t been afraid to do that with certain players, but he’s yet to do it with a player of Pastrnak’s caliber.
But the Bruins aren’t exactly loaded with fill-in talent that makes it easy to swallow a night without Pastrnak, especially with your team trailing in the series after a Game 3 loss. Ryan Donato, who was the player Cassidy threw into the fire last postseason, is now in Minnesota, and if a player finished his year with Providence and not the Bruins, there’s a reason for that. Floating them as a replacement for a player that would have scored 50 goals this season had he been healthy for the full 82 is absurd. So if Pastrnak sits in the press box, it means either David Backes or Chris Wagner has been thrown back into the lineup. Neither is a viable replacement for No. 88’s skillset, and it’s hard to imagine them helping the Bruins address their biggest issue in this series (they have just six goals on 105 shots against Sergei Bobrovsky).
You’re only scratching Pastrnak if he’s too hurt to help your team, which has been floated about given his struggles.
So, is he hurt?
I mean, at this point, you almost hope he’s hurt, right? (Because if he’s not, woof, is this bad.)
But Pastrnak doesn’t look 100 percent. Was the thumb injury that kept on the sidelines for over a month reaggravated at some point in the Toronto series? We won’t know until the Black and Gold’s postseason runs come to a conclusion, of course, but that thumb injury shouldn’t lead to some of the struggles previously mentioned, namely in Pastrnak’s skating game and battle level. Especially when you’ve seen that Pastrnak has been more than willing to fight through upper-echelon defensive assignments as part of the most devastating line in all of hockey for the last two seasons. But there has been an obvious reluctance on the part of Pastrnak when it comes to teeing up his patented one-time bomb of a shot, and the shots he has been able to get off have looked flimsy at best, which would speak to the potential of a thumb injury creating limitations.
It could also explain how protective Cassidy, who has legitimately never been afraid to criticize players not performing up to their level or pay, has been when discussing Pastrnak’s on-ice struggles this spring. As if he knows the 22-year-old is simply trying to help while at far less than 100 percent.
So what can Cassidy do, or more importantly, what will he do?
The answer is nothing at all.
While the contributions of your Charlie Coyles and Joakim Nordstroms are beyond welcomed, the truth is that the Bruins are not winning this series without some sort of tangible production from their best players, which extends beyond just Pastrnak (Bergeron and Marchand need to get on the board, and soon). That’s not happening if Pastrnak is hidden in the press box or buried as your 12th forward with just a 10 minutes to his name. It feels obvious that if the Bruins are indeed going to go down, it’s going to be with their best players being given the chance to return to form.
“They’ve just got to stay with it,” said Cassidy. “I know they haven’t scored and we’re going to need them to score. But we’ve found other ways to win other games without them hitting the score sheet. And that’s what we’re going to have to do until they do.”