Bruce Cassidy isn’t getting enough from his top players, primarily David Pastrnak.
Yes, Pastrnak sits third on the Bruins’ postseason scoring list with seven points on three goals and four assists in nine games. But whatever pop he had during the regular season hasn’t translated over into the playoffs just yet.
The talented Czech returned from a hand injury in late March. He slowly found his groove again late in the regular season following his first game back against the Islanders on March 19.
Pastrnak won’t admit that the same injured hand that held him out for over a month is an issue, at least not yet. It’s hard to tell from afar whether that sentiment holds true.
Mentally, however, is a different story. Pastrnak’s comfortable puck-handling and playmaking knack aren’t there. He’s passing up quality shooting attempts — especially on the power play — and trying to force the perfect play on numerous puck possessions.
Cassidy alluded to Pastrnak’s indecisiveness with the puck following Boston’s double-overtime loss to Columbus in Game 2. A struggling, yet upbeat Pastrnak agreed with his coach’s assessment.
“Yeah, well obviously I have to, I don’t know, shoot more puck[s] and go to the net and handle the puck a little more,” Pastrnak said following Monday’s practice at Warrior Ice Arena. “There’s a number of things that you can do better. So, I’ll just try doing it tomorrow.”
Well, there’s one thing Pastrnak can build on from Game 2. Amidst all his head-scratching decisions, the 2014 first-round pick actually lit the lamp for the first time since Game 4 in Toronto.
Sure the puck deflected off Pastrnak’s skate on the heels of Charlie Coyle’s pass in front of Sergei Bobrovsky’s crease. But Pastrnak earned that bounce. He drove hard to the front of the net forcing the Blue Jackets’ D to pay attention.
Cassidy noticed that. He wouldn’t have said so otherwise after the tough double overtime loss.
“Well he got a goal tonight going to the net. I don’t know if he scored it or Charlie, whatever. But that’s a start. Had a couple of good forecheck hits, so sometimes you’ve got to bring something else in this game,” Cassidy said. “To me, I still think he’s indecisive, whether to shoot or pass.”
Maybe new linemates will ease Pastrnak’s decision making.
Pastrnak skated with Coyle and Marcus Johansson on the third line during Monday’s practice. The trio was on the ice on Pastrnak’s third of the postseason just 2:01 into the middle stanza that gave the Bruins a 2-1 lead at the time.
But don’t call it a demotion. Call it a case of getting Pastrnak going.
Both Chris Wagner and Karson Kuhlman — taking Pastrnak’s place on the second line Monday — benefited from the dynamic chemistry between Johansson and Coyle during their time on Line 3. Pastrnak’s slick playmaking ability brings a different dynamic with a potential trickle-up effect for the top-six.
“There’s not a lot of players like Pasta,” Johansson said about Pastrnak. “What he can do with the puck — and how he makes plays — is pretty fun to watch. I guess we’ll see [in Game 3].”
Cassidy is weighing his options. He won’t move Pastrnak away from the top power play unit, nor will he put him on the fourth line with Sean Kuraly. We’ll get the final decision either after the morning skate or during warmups at Nationwide Arena Tuesday.
The Bruins’ bottom-six made up for the struggles from top players like Pastrnak. That’s a testament to the team’s depth as well as Don Sweeney getting the necessary upgrades in Johansson and Coyle at the trade deadline.
Every line contributed in some capacity this postseason. That’s something to be proud of. So maybe we’re taking the Pastrnak struggles a bit too far here in the media?
“I don’t know, I think you guys are making a bigger picture out of it,” Pastrnak said. “I’m just trying my best, and, you know, at the end of the day we’re still winning and the series is 1-1. So my focus is to just help the team win every game and play well every shift I’m on the ice.”
Some players get derailed early by their postseason struggles. Pastrnak hasn’t felt that yet. He knows he can be better. Now he hopes to make his words matter.
Tim Rosenthal serves as the Managing Editor of Bruins Daily. He started contributing videos to the site in 2010 before fully coming on board during the Bruins' Stanley Cup run in 2011. His bylines over the last decade have been featured on Boston.com, FoxSports.com, College Hockey News, Patch and Inside Hockey. You can follow Tim on Twitter @_TimRosenthal.
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