BRIGHTON, Mass – Though the game was a couple of days ago, the talk around the Bruins on Tuesday was again about the targeting of the NHL’s leading scorer, David Pastrnak.
The 23-year-old Bruins sniper leads the NHL by a wide margin with 25 goals this season and is on pace to tie the franchise-record 76 goals scored by Bruins legend Phil Esposito. At this point, nobody has been able to contain him.
Ottawa tried shadowing Pastrnak defensively last week, and both the Rangers and Canadiens last weekend employed the strategy of roughing up No. 88 in order to discourage him. It didn’t work out for either team as Pastrnak scored instrumental third-period goals against both the Blueshirts and the Habs, but it’s also a pattern that could become routine as Pastrnak keeps on scoring goals.
While the old-school hockey mentality would be to protect Pastrnak by going after opponents that take runs at him, that isn’t what happened on Sunday night against Montreal when Shea Weber, Jake Armia, Ben Chariot and Jeff Petry all took turns giving him the rough treatment. Instead, the Bruins pushed back a bit, scored a few goals and ending up winning the game in the best long-term payback for it.
Cassidy said again on Tuesday ahead of the home tilt against the Carolina Hurricanes that it’s going to be on Pastrnak to “be ready for it” rather than his teammates step up to protect him.
“When you’re a better player, that happens. He’ll just have to keep his head up a little more. There were a couple of against the Rangers and Montreal the other night that were borderline late. You hope that the league takes care of the players when those situations happen. But he just needs to be ready for it,” Cassidy said. “That’s just the way it is. When you’re a good player you just get targeted more. If you don’t want to get hit that often or get targeted, be an average player. I don’t mean that to be disrespectful, but that’s the way it goes.
“We circle guys on the other team’s lineup all the time in terms of slowing them down. How are we going to do it? Well, deny them the puck, good sticks and be physical. There’s a bunch of different ways you can do it, but clearly being physical was on Montreal’s agenda the other night. As long as it’s within the rules, that’s just hockey.”
Part of the reason Cassidy has to take this approach is the NHL continuing to legislate fighting and frontier justice out of the league and part of it is simply that the Bruins don’t have too many players on their roster capable of protecting Pastrnak as a deterrent.
Aside from 42-year-old Bruins captain Zdeno Chara and 35-year-old David Backes, just back from a concussion, there aren’t too many players that are going to put any fear into opposition looking to take liberties with the Bruins’ game-breaking force.
With that in mind, the B’s better that Pastrnak “being ready for it” also protects him from getting injured as a result of the increased punishment headed his way. Because it seems as if an injury is about the only thing capable of slowing Pastrnak down as he keeps on scoring at an unheard-of pace in today’s NHL.
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