By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
Thursday was probably David Pastrnak's most miserable night at the Garden this year.
Now, finding that doesn't really require a deep dive. Pastrnak has been straight-up lethal at the Garden this year, and has not scored a goal on home ice in back-to-back regular-season games for the first time since the final two home games of 2018-19.
And Thursday's 0-0-0 performance against the Blackhawks was actually Pastrnak's first home-ice donut since the team's shootout loss to the Flyers back on Nov. 10. (The Bruins have since responded to that shootout loss with a 9-0-3 record, while Pastrnak has totaled 10 goals and 13 points over that 12-game run.)
But Pastrnak's frustrations went beyond not scoring at the Hart-trophy pace he has since the puck dropped on the new season.
With the Bruins trailing the Blackhawks in the third, No. 88 was absolutely plastered into the boards on a high hit from the Blackhawks' Zack Smith. The 23-year-old Pastrnak wasted no time looking behind him and throwing his hands up as if to ask the referees where the call went on that one. It's not hard to see why, really, as the replay appeared to show Smith leave his feet to make Pastrnak's head the principal point of contact on the play.
To the shock of no one, the Bruins didn't like the hit, and it was John Moore, playing in his first game since coming back from offseason shoulder surgery, who tried to make Smith answer the bell.
“I didn’t see [the hit]," Pastrnak said of Smith's launch. "I just felt a hit on my head.”
Pastrnak's night actually got worse after the non-call on Smith, though, as he was hauled down by Jonathan Toews in overtime, which gave the Chicago captain all he needed to end the game on a breakaway in a 4-3 final for the 'Hawks.
— NHL (@NHL) December 6, 2019
“I think it was a penalty," Pastrnak, practically scoffing in disbelief, said after the loss. "I mean, I had a free lane to the net — either have a breakaway or a two-on-one with [David Krejci] — so I think that should be a call.”
The Garden certainly seemed to agree with Pastrnak, who has drawn 13 penalties (the 14th-most in hockey) on the year , and reacted in playoff form, as the frustrated (and howling) crowd threw things on the ice following the Toews goal.
But Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy called the non-call on Toews a 'quick judgement call,' and certainly seemed to have more of an issue with the non-call on the headshot Pastrnak took earlier in the night.
"That’s more concerning — that’s one of our top-end guys — and see if that was within the rules," Cassidy offered. "So the overtime one, I think you get some of those some nights, you don’t other nights. It didn’t go our way on that one."
It's rarely been going Pastrnak's way of late, and while some of that was almost expected (he was never going to score 80 goals this year, as exciting as that may have been), there's a definite trend of teams keying in on Pastrnak whenever possible.
It's a worthwhile idea to slow him down -- and it's not like anything else has worked thus far -- and it's been a noticeable trend in three straight games beginning with Sunday's spirited bout with the Canadiens. In that game, Pastrnak rose to the challenge and scored the goal that kickstarted the B's comeback win over Carey Price's squad.
But over these last two games, it's felt like Pastrnak has had to fight his own battles. He's proven more than willing to do exactly that, too, but it's ended up with him in the box in two straight games, as he was called for roughing penalties on both Tuesday (he ripped Warren Foegele down to the ice) and Thursday's spat with Connor Murphy ended with only No. 88 in the box. Pastrnak claims the ref told him he started it, which is why he was the only player sent to the box. And that's where things can get tricky for Pastrnak and the Bruins; They'll have no problem with Pastrnak feeling capable of fighting his own battles, but if those fights end with him in the box and the Bruins on the penalty kill, that's a no-win situation across the board.
"I think teams are just recognizing that, listen, these are the leading scorers in the league. You’ve got to pay a little more attention to them," Cassidy said, including Brad Marchand in with Pastrnak on the topic of frustration creeping into their game. "It’s going to happen in Edmonton with their two guys, happened last night in Ottawa. I mean it’s going to happen, and we’ll have to find ways to fight through it and I’ll have to find ways to get them away from certain matchups if I feel that’s what it is. But I just think it’s a general thing with them right now in terms of limiting their opportunities."
But you can expect Pastrnak to keep on battling if it means the true root of his frustration can be thrown out the window.
“No, not at all," Pastrnak said when asked if the 'targeting' is beginning to get to him. "It’s hockey. I don’t really get frustrated anymore besides when we lose.
"All I’m frustrated [with] is that we lost.”
Here are some other thoughts and notes from a 4-3 overtime loss at TD Garden...
John Moore returns to action, and the battle for minutes is officially upon us
The B's were beyond thrilled to see John Moore back in uniform after an almost nine-month recovery from shoulder surgery.
“It was awesome," the 29-year-old Moore said of his first shift of the year. "Torey [Krug] came up and give me a big pat on the butt and an 'attaboy' after it, and I don’t think I even touched the puck.”
But with Moore officially back in the mix, the Bruins are now skating with eight defensemen on their NHL roster. This is not a foreign concept to the Bruins by any stretch of the imagination, but it does mean that the competition for minutes and roles on this team is officially real on the B's third pairing. By now, we know that Cassidy will keep Torey Krug and Brandon Carlo together on his second pair, while Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy will (more often than not) be their top pair. I think you could make the case that the crafty Matt Grzelcyk has officially earned his way into a "must-play" role on this team.
So, you're really talking about the veteran Moore and Connor Clifton, who is no longer waiver-exempt (meaning 30 teams would have a crack at him should the B's try to move him down to the minors), battling for ice-time along with Steve Kampfer.
A quick primer on the advantages for each player: Clifton is a right shot, meaning he could give the Bruins that perfect left-right balance on all three pairings (the left-shot Grzelcyk moved to the right with Moore back in action), but experience certainly favors Moore, as he's played 509 NHL games in a 10-year career while Clifton's played just 43 NHL games in total.
There's also the potential for Kevan Miller to join the ranks as the team's ninth defenseman, but updates on Miller's attempts to return from a twice-broken kneecap have been few and far between, creating real doubt when it comes to his availability at all.
The Bruins have found something interesting with this new fourth line
Injuries have a funny way of helping you discover things you otherwise wouldn't have even considered trying. The Bruins' new fourth line Par Lindholm flanked between Joakim Nordstrom and David Backes is a perfect example of that.
And don't look now, but this line has actually been pretty damn good.
Assembled for the last three games, the Nordstrom-Lindholm-Backes trio has been on the ice for almost 19 minutes of five-on-five play. Over that stretch, the Bruins have outshot opponents 20-4, generated nine high-danger scoring chances (while surrendering none the other way), and have controlled possession at a fantastic 75 percent mark.
Now, a lot of this has to do with some favorable beginnings (they've started the majority of their shifts in the offensive zone), but Thursday saw this line finally rewarded for their efforts, as Nordstrom got the B's on the board with the goal that kickstarted their third-period comeback.
Not bad for the most obvious "just throw it in a pot and see what happens" line you could've thought up.