A frustrated Boston Bruins fanbase hasn’t shied away from critiquing David Pastrnak’s recent string of performances.
Head coach Bruce Cassidy echoed the sentiment of Pastrnak’s struggles during Saturday’s hybrid zoom and in-person media availability.
“Right now his game is off,” Cassidy said following the morning skate in Ottawa. “I think it’s clear to everybody.”
Every NHL player hits a rut during a long 82-game season. Sometimes even the best goal scorers encounter multiple stretches without producing much offense.
The one-time Rocket Richard winner isn’t an exception. At one point, he endured a nine-game goal drought from Nov. 30-Jan. 4. Pastrnak tallied a mere two assists in a nasty stretch where injuries, a COVID-19 outbreak and Jake DeBrusk’s trade request riddled the organization.
His effort wasn’t in question, however. Pastrnak fired a decent amount of shot attempts over that nine-game timeframe.
Sometimes Pastrnak was too cute handling the puck in an attempt to create scoring chances for others. But Pastrnak’s first slump was more of enduring a snakebitten stretch over committing self-inflicting mistakes.
“Earlier in the year when I was asked a question about Pasta scoring, I thought he was hitting crossbars, posts… he was getting opportunities, but he was off net on some of them,” Cassiday said. “I don’t see as much of that recently for him.”
The Bruins haven’t seen the same Pastrnak from his dazzling run in January. His uptick in production came with new linemates in Taylor Hall and Erik Haula after Cassidy moved Pastrnak away from Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron in an attempt to balance Boston’s lineup.
Pastrnak lit the lamp 12 times in January. He followed that stellar first month of 2022 with back-to-back two-goal outings against the Seattle Kraken and the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Bruins, however, started to unravel coming out of the All-Star break losing Brad Marchand to a six-game suspension and Patrice Bergeron (upper-body injury) for three games.
Cassidy and company needed all the scoring help they could get without their potent top-line duo. They’ve hit a wall without Marchand and Bergeron, tallying a paltry four goals over their last four goals.
Pastrnak became more of a passenger than an asset without Marchand and Bergeron in a top-line role with Haula and Hall. With offense hard to come by, Pastrnak developed the ugly habit of forcing turnovers and blowing assignments away from the puck. Heck, he’s finding difficulties firing off his patented one-timer during a Boston power play.
“You always want to make sure guys are getting their opportunities. I think he’s forcing some plays for sure — too many turnovers, too much 1-on-1 hockey. He has to simplify [his game],” Cassidy added on Pastrnak. “I think it’s a product of a creative player that wants to help the team win by doing what he does best. But how he goes about it right now is working against him. Hopefully, he understands that and works with his linemates and manages pucks better.”
His turnover frequency over the past week put the Bruins in a tough spot. But even a reunion with a returning Bergeron didn’t spark Pastrnak one bit in one of his roughest outings of the season in the B’s 4-1 loss in Long Island on Thursday.
Again, Pastrnak endured a night of committing unforced turnovers and passing up quality scoring chances. But Thursday’s lowlight came at a pivotal moment in the third period with the Bruins trailing 2-1. The Islanders found themselves in transition after corraling an Ilya Sorokin rebound on Trent Frederic’s scoring bid. With Mike Reilly caught in a pinch, Pastrnak failed to cover the middle of the ice following a poke-check attempt in front of the New York bench. Mat Barzal netted his 12th off the season seconds later to give the Isles a two-goal cushion.
“The third [Islanders] goal the other night coming back [on D], does it affect his whole game? I know coming back on D zone coverage, he didn’t stop as the first guy back, and he could’ve put out a fire. Reilly gets doubled up on the right side there on a shot and a rebound,” Cassidy said. “If [Pastrnak] stops, we could’ve cleared that puck, so who knows how the game will turn out.”
Well, the Bruins need to turn out better results beginning Saturday against the lowly Senators.
Cassidy spent most of his press conference addressing Pastrnak and the team’s intensity over the last few games. His noteworthy soundbite came when discussing how the defensive core needs to “be more like pricks.”
Perhaps Pastrnak will take notice of that sentiment, too, helping support the D in transition when needed, especially with Brandon Carlo being a game-time decision after sustaining a nasty cut to the wrist at the morning skate. But the Bruins need Pastrnak to simplify his game on both ends of the ice without sacrificing his offensive creativity.
“That’s the stuff we don’t want to lose with David, and that’s the stuff he’ll be held most accountable for. The structure away from the puck can’t change whether you’re a 50-goal scorer or a five-goal scorer,” Cassidy said. “Some of the creative stuff we have to allow him to play through if it’s time and score situations. He’s going to get a little more rope than some guys, but that’s where the rest of his game — the defensive part and playing within the team structure — can’t deviate. We talked about that today, and hopefully it’s better tonight.”
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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