Bruins

Bruins Summer Series: Can David Pastrnak use playoffs as learning experience?

Bruins Summer Series: Can David Pastrnak use playoffs as learning experience?

Today’s piece on David Pastrnak is the last in a 10-part series over two weeks breaking down the core Bruins group of players, and where they stand headed into next season after last spring’s Stanley Cup playoff run.

When you look back at the numbers, they certainly didn’t tell the entire story.

David Pastrnak finished tied for the team lead with his nine playoff goals and he had a perfectly respectable 19 points in his 24 playoff games during Boston’s run to the Stanley Cup Final. But the 23-year-old Bruins right winger wasn’t nearly as dominant as he was while scoring 81 points in 66 games during the regular season. Worse still, he appeared to lose confidence during Boston’s postseason run and at points was turning away chances to shoot away and rip one-timers that he was scoring on frequently during the regular season.

How much of it can be attributed to problems related to the thumb injury he suffered away from the rink during the regular season? How much of it was battling through the playoff grind where mental strength is just as important as dazzling physical abilities?

It sure felt like a combination of both, and the Bruins are hoping that Pastrnak’s battle with his own self-confidence is something that will make him a better player moving forward.

“I go back to his first postseason against Ottawa and it wasn’t very good. Then the following year he was strong in the first round against Toronto and maybe slipped a little bit in the second round. Then this past postseason, I thought he got better and then it got even harder in the third round,” said Bruins President Cam Neely in an exclusive 1-on-1 interview with NBC Sports Boston. “So these are learning experiences for these young players to really understand what it takes as you advance in the playoffs. Each round is different than the previous one.

“Then you get to the conference final and the finals and it’s tough hockey out there. I look at Pasta and he’s grown from the first playoff experience to this last one, and I expect even more growth out of him moving forward. I understand losing confidence, but I don’t understand losing confidence and not shooting. That’s what I’d talk to him about.

"For me, if you lose confidence, it means putting more pucks on net if you’re counted on to score goals. But everybody’s different when they lose confidence and everybody thinks differently. Pasta came out and said that he wasn’t confident shooting the puck, so maybe he’d just give it to somebody else. From my perspective, you put pucks on net and then everybody has to turn around and find where the puck is. Maybe that creates two opportunities out of it. You could tell he was fighting it because he was struggling with the one-timer.”

So is the player based on his own comments following the season where Pastrnak called the 24-game playoff run “a big mental experience.” Certainly that was obvious as he flailed away at one-timer attempts and eventually turned down shooting opportunities when the laser shot from the face-off circles is his scoring bread and butter. Pastrnak vowed to be better moving forward, and it’s a good bet he will be based on his willingness to work hard, and his undeniable upward trajectory since joining the NHL as the league’s youngest player at 18 years old during his rookie season.

Pastrnak is an NHL superstar-in-the-making and his first run to the Stanley Cup Final is another opportunity to better himself as a hockey player.

Now it’s more a question as to how good he can be where he finished with 38 goals and 81 points last season, and clearly has the ability to get up in the neighborhood of 50 goals and 100 points if healthy and at his best.

The other question is where he’d be best at moving forward. It would appear the Bruins are comfortable keeping the skilled, game-breaking Pastrnak on the right wing with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand on the Perfection Line. But there’s always the option to move Pastrnak down with his fellow Czech David Krejci and diversify their scoring at times, while also potentially moving a bigger, stronger forward with Bergeron and Marchand.

This will be a daily question for Bruce Cassidy and the Bruins coaching staff on a game-by-game basis, but the bigger picture is about Pastrnak’s evolution into the best player on the B’s roster. The 23-year-old isn’t there yet and he showed during the long postseason run that there are still areas where his game can mature into the complete player he will become.

But there’s still no denying the bright future for Pastrnak after five brilliant NHL seasons, and that this past spring will end up being another formative experience that is pointed toward being the future of the franchise.    

Key stat: 81 – The career-high number of points in 66 games for Pastrnak, who is just scratching the surface of how good he can be at 23 years old. Now it’s about continuing to evolve during the regular season and becoming that kind of dominant player in the postseason as well.  

Pastrnak in his own words: “It was obviously challenging for me, but I had 25 guys to help pick me up just like I would do the opposite [for them]. It was the mental stuff, you know? In this kind of life, even if you don't want to see stuff, read stuff and blah-blah with the media, it's tough. You're always going to see it. And that's fine, you know? I will take a lot of positives from this. I'm just going to get stronger mentally. So it was a good experience. It's a big mental experience. I gained a lot this postseason. The mental stuff is what I learned the most. [I learned] that it doesn't [expletive] matter if you play a bad friggen' game. It's the playoffs. Or if you have a bad shift. It's the playoffs and you just need to come back to the bench and make sure you're ready for the next shift no matter what happened behind you. It's the tough part of hockey sometimes when you get back stuck on something instead of looking forward, and focusing on the next shift. Sometimes you get stuck on thinking what happened before and that brings you down kind of."

The biggest question he faces: Can Pastrnak evolve after admitting to losing confidence during the Stanley Cup playoff run? Was the thumb injury a one-time blip that the young right winger is going to learn from and become an even better pro as a result? Beyond that it’s a matter of Pastrnak becoming as good as he wants to be, provided he can continue to improve his two-way game, retain all his offensive gifts and learn how to do deal with being targeted by other teams on a nightly basis.

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Haggerty: These blown leads are becoming a plague for the Bruins

Haggerty: These blown leads are becoming a plague for the Bruins

PITTSBURGH — If it happened once or twice, it could be shrugged off as a coincidence.

But the Bruins have blown three-goal leads three times this season, including two in the last week alone. That gives them one of the NHL's worst records when leading after two periods, with seven losses already this season.

To put Sunday's 4-3 loss at Pittsburgh in perspective, the Bruins went into the contest 200-1-6 since 2010-11 in games where they’d held a three-goal lead. 

It came down to a couple different things on Sunday, but you can start with their sloppy second period. They basically did nothing for the first 10 minutes coming out of the first intermission. That opened the door for everything that followed.

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First, Sidney Crosby made a couple of All-World plays to set up goals and get the Penguins back in the game. Then, it came down to the Bruins dooming themselves with mistakes, allowing two more goals without any offensive response. 

On the third goal, their top power-play unit stayed out on the ice far too long, and a gassed Brad Marchand couldn’t catch Jack Johnson as the trailer unloaded a shorthanded bomb. Then in the third, Evgeni Malkin stripped Charlie McAvoy behind the Boston net and set up Bryan Rust for the Penguins' game-winner.

To a man, the Bruins said it wasn’t about taking the foot off the gas pedal. Instead, they pointed to mistakes made while crediting Pittsburgh for pushing back.

“It’s typically how does it happen? We saw some poor defending and some poor goaltending in Philly, and tonight it was more of the same to be honest with you,” said coach Bruce Cassidy. “Not so much on the goalie. They were good goals. But we get beat off the wall and the last one I can’t tell you what happened to be honest with you.

“I saw them bump their urgency up. The goals we are giving up against a good team…what is it a lack of focus? Do we lose our urgency? Because they are gifts a little bit. You can get outplayed by good teams, and you will in stretches. But these were gifts today.”

But it sure feels like the mind-numbing results fly in the face of their denials. Instead, something feels inherently wrong with a team that consistently plays down to the worst teams in the league, and seems to ease up once they build a comfortable lead. Those are the kinds of team traits that don’t go away as things get more challenging, and will certainly crop up when things are heightened. It’s also a shocking development for a Bruins team that’s been very good at closing out other teams over the years.

“We just need to bear down and you can’t just have a good effort and be satisfied with that, and then come back in the next game and just play for half of a game or whatever that was,” said Patrice Bergeron, who scored his 21st goal of the season and won 20-of-25 face-offs. “We need to take it upon ourselves. We all need to take responsibility and be accountable for how we’re able to play in this locker room.

“It’s one of those games where we’re playing a good team and they’re going to give you a push, but you can’t let that go by. It’s a 3-0 and you know there’s a lot of game left, so you need to play the right way and keep pushing in order to increase that lead.”

The good news for the Bruins is that they still have a half-season to figure things out. But it also makes one wonder if something has to change from the outside to improve things for a Bruins team that's almost the same as last season’s Stanley Cup finalist.

It remains to be seen what’s going to right the ship, or if it will ever get righted at all. But the list of problems is growing for a Bruins team that can’t live off its early-season success for much longer.

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Bruins don't expect David Backes to retire after demotion to AHL

Bruins don't expect David Backes to retire after demotion to AHL

David Backes was waived by the Boston Bruins late last week. The statement move to demote the veteran Bruin was part of two critical changes that the B's made to their team. The other was waiving fellow enforcer and physical forward Brett Ritchie.

After Backes' demotion, there was some speculation that the 14-year veteran may opt to retire instead of playing in the AHL for the Providence Bruins. But according to Bruins president Cam Neely, Backes hasn't indicated that he will do that.

"I don’t think he has a mindset of retirement," said Neely per Kevin Paul Dupont of The Boston Globe. "He’s a very proud man, and a professional. I still have the feeling he thinks he can help, so we’ll see where it goes from here."

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This isn't altogether surprising. Backes may be holding out hope that he'll get another chance to play moving forward if he can prove himself in the AHL. 

Backes turns 36 in May, but hockey players often have long careers. So, it's possible that Backes could find a role as a veteran depth piece for another team. It'll just be on a deal much cheaper than the five-year, $30 million deal he signed with the Bruins back in the 2016 offseason.

That said, it's worth noting that Backes has had concussion issues in recent seasons. So that could impact his decision-making moving forward.

In 16 games this season, Backes had just one goal and two assists for the Bruins. He'll take some time off before joining the Providence Bruins later this month.