BOSTON -- With 27 games left in the regular season and the President's Trophy -- given to the team with the best record in the NHL -- within their grasp, now is not the time for the Bruins to be easing up.
So coach Bruce Cassidy decided Tuesday night it was time to send David Pastrnak a message. The slumping 21-year-old right wing was dropped to the third line in Boston’s 5-2 win over the Calgary Flames at TD Garden as big, physical David Backes took Pastrnak's spot alongside Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand on the Bruins' top line.
Pastrnak finished with a minus-1 rating and a couple of shots on net in the win, and acknowledged that he had some work to do.
“I don’t mind playing with anyone, you know?" he said. "I think I’m the kind of player, you know, I can find chemistry with someone. I don’t know. I want to be better, and we’ll see. I was trying to get better. I need to kind of get better and think what I will do, and what will be the best for the team.”
Some of it was clearly about the matchup against a gritty, fast-skating and skilled Calgary crew that doesn’t shy away from the contact. Cassidy admitted as much after the game.
“Their line plays hard; they play honest and play in straight lines," said Cassidy. "I thought, well, if they’re going to beat us, they’re going to go 200 feet. I thought they got an easy goal against us, too easy for how good they are and how good we want to be defensively. Then Backes would see [Matthew] Tkachuk on the left wing, who is an ornery guy. So, it’s just a bit of a matchup to keep everything honest in our building, give us a little more push back, and then Pasta would slide down with [Riley] Nash and [Danton] Heinen, which is still a very effective [third] line.
“So, you know, just a little tweak and a little different matchup worked tonight, and we’ll see going forward."
That part of it certainly worked as the Bruins shut down the Flames defensively in the final 40 minutes, Bergeron scored a pair of third-period goals and Backes finished with a pair of helpers in a solid, blue collar night’s work.
But some of it was also about a player in Pastrnak who has just one goal in his last 10 games and began to fly under the radar when Marchand was suspended.
The game-breaking right wing is a minus player thus far during the month of February, and hasn’t been generating much in the way of shots on net or scoring chances . . . both of which were coming in bunches earlier in the year.
So, once Pastrnak took an ill-advised slashing penalty after getting stood up by Mark Giordano a couple of times with hard hits at the offensive blue line, the time arrived for Cassidy to make change.
It’s time for everybody up and down the Bruins roster to roll up their sleeves, do their share of the hard-nosed work and play up to the intensity and focus their opponents are showing them on a nightly basis -- and that includes electric offensive talents like Pastrnak.
“I was trying to say that politely, all kidding aside,” said Cassidy, when asked if he was sending a message to his young right wing by dropping him to the third line and just 12-plus minutes of ice time. “You know, because I don’t like to do it through [the media] -- David and I always talk. Yeah, to a certain extent [you] try to get a lot of the guy’s attention, but he’s one that [has to know] you’re going to have tough matchups come April and May.
“If we’re fortunate enough to be playing well and playing at that time of the year, that’s what he is going to see. [Pastrnak] is going to have to grow from the experience he got last year. So there was a little bit of [message-sending], for sure. I love David’s passion for the game, his willingness to compete. We just have to remind him every once in a while how to compete, how to manage the puck, and how to best help the team.”
Pastrnak had a couple of goals and four points in the playoff series last spring against the Ottawa Senators, but there were also times when he struggled to play his game amidst the elevated postseason intensity all around him.
Bergeron, Marchand and Pastrnak have been the best forward line in the NHL since they were put together a month or two into the regular season. But Tuesday night served as a reminder to Pastrnak that he’s going to need to up his battle, his involvement and his “hard to play against” quotient if he wants to stay there when the going gets tough.