Bruins

David Pastrnak walks line between dazzling offense and poor defense

bruins_david_pastrnak_110417.jpg

David Pastrnak walks line between dazzling offense and poor defense

BOSTON – The good news is that David Pastrnak pulled off another highlight-reel goal in Sunday’s loss to the Edmonton Oilers when he toe-dragged and snapped in his 12th score of the season before knocking down all the Oil defenders in front of the net like bowling pins. The 21-year-old winger is on pace for 45 goals and 75 points on the season, and has made a mini-four game goal-scoring slump a distant thing of the past.  

This is all good for an undermanned Bruins team that badly needs Pastrnak’s offensive skills and game-breaking ability with so many other playmakers out of the lineup.

MORE BRUINS

But Pastrnak was also a minus-2 in the Sunday night loss to the Oilers, had some really careless turnovers as the game wore on, and is tied for second-worst plus/minus on the Bruins with a minus-6 rating on the season.

It raises an interesting dilemma for a talented youngster that the Bruins invested $40 million into with a huge long term contract just a few months ago.

During his recent five-game stretch without a goal, Pastrnak was a plus-1 player with 10 shots on net and didn’t have as many glaring turnovers that led to offense for opponents. By his own admission, Pastrnak was playing it a little more conservatively and taking playing a solid 200-foot game into more account with the Bruins looking to tighten things up across the board.

Then he loosened things up and got a little riskier with the puck in the last few games, and -- lo and behold -- he’s got goals in two straight games while on pace for a career-high offensive output if he can remain healthy in this season of injury. It’s something Pastrnak admitted that he’s currently battling with and trying to find that balance between productive, mandatory offense and good-enough defense to allow Boston to play winning hockey.

“It was slow for a couple of games. I don’t know. Every year you’re going to go through those stretches where need to learn to stay focused on your game. When you’re on top of your game then you are getting goals,” said Pastrnak, who then referenced a stretch in late October when his defense and puck management became a topic of conversation. “The thing is when stuff was going bad with me defensively, all of my focus was on playing defense instead of offense. I don’t know if I need to get these things done together. I know that my strength is [in the offensive end] and I need to do my job in the D-zone. I should be able to do my offensive stuff every game.”

Clearly there are areas where Pastrnak needs to pick his spots, and perhaps curb some of the risky and overly fancy plays in the latter part of tight games where the Bruins are protecting a lead. It’s called situational awareness, and it’s something that will come with experience for a conscientious player in Pastrnak who wants to eventually play in all situations, and is getting entrusted more and more at the end of games. That’s something the Black and Gold did very well as a team during their recently, dearly departed four game winning streak.

But at the same time, a 45-goal pace is a 45-goal pace for Pastrnak. Nobody should do all that much to throw off an electric offensive talent that’s got the goods to carry the Bruins offense during a hot streak, and continue growing into the bright future of the Bruins franchise along with young D-man Charlie McAvoy.  

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Morning Skate: Kovalchuk thinks there's still plenty left in the tank

cp-morning-skate.jpg
NBC Sports Boston illustration

Morning Skate: Kovalchuk thinks there's still plenty left in the tank

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while heading into late July where nothing at all happens in the hockey world. 
 
-- Ilya Kovalchuk thinks he’s still got some prime NHL years ahead as he readies for his return with the Los Angeles Kings. Maybe so, but would he ever admit he thinks he’s lost a step and won’t be a game-breaker in his late 30s?

 -- Larry Brooks says history shows the Rangers have picked the wrong man for their enforcer role in Cody MacLeod. 
 
-- A couple of pieces memorializing retired NHL goalie Ray Emery, who tragically lost his life at age 35 in a drowning accident last weekend. He was one of the toughest goaltenders in the history of the NHL.  
 
-- Pro Hockey Talk asks what the right contract extension is going to be for Washington Capitals rabble-rouser Tom Wilson. 
 
-- A nearly 20-minute video of NHL players mic’d up during the Stanley Cup playoffs, which is always high entertainment. 
 
-- For something completely different: This teaser for Stranger Things season 3 shows it was inevitable they were going to the mall
 

Haggerty: With Jaroslav Halak in place, dealing Tuukka Rask shouldn't be out of the question

Haggerty: With Jaroslav Halak in place, dealing Tuukka Rask shouldn't be out of the question

There are a couple of inalienable facts about next year’s goaltending situation with the Boston Bruins.

The first is that the B’s have most definitely upgraded in that area with 33-year-old Jaroslav Halak as the backup to Tuukka Rask. Halak is a flat-out better goalie than Anton Khudobin, and should be a little more consistent than the Russian backup, who was admittedly excellent last season while racking up a 16-6-7 record as Tuukka Rask’s understudy.

Halak, on the other hand, has won less than 18 games in a season only twice in his 10 full seasons at the NHL level, and has been a starter with the Canadiens, Blues, Capitals and Islanders with a career .916 save percentage over his NHL career. In case anybody hadn’t noticed that’s also been Tuukka Rask’s save percentage over the last three seasons for the Bruins.

Which brings us to inalienable goaltending fact No. 2: Halak is going to push Rask like he hasn’t been challenged since truly taking over as the top goalie in Boston.

The last truly competitive situation with Rask between the B’s pipes was in 2011-12 in Tim Thomas’ last season with the Bruins when the Finnish goaltender was backing up a reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner. Rask had temporarily taken Thomas’ job away from him two years prior during the 2009-10 season when he was a rookie goalie, and that sparked the best season of Thomas’ NHL career where he led the Black and Gold to a Stanley Cup victory.

MORE BRUINS OFFSEASON

Since then Rask has had “just another guys” like Chad Johnson, Niklas Svedberg, Jonas Gustavsson and Anton Khudobin backing him up, and none of those backups had the kind of juice to truly take Rask’s job away from him. The best Khudobin could do was start four straight games for the Bruins back in November of last season, and that turned out to be one of the turning points in a 112-point campaign where Rask was significantly motivated from that point onward.

Halak could legitimately get on a hot streak in the regular season and force the Bruins coaching staff to sit Rask for weeks, or even a month, at a time, and that’s something no backup has ever been able to do behind Boston’s Franchise Finn. That should be a good thing and that is something the B’s are already counting on to happen for next season.

“We’ve talked about internal competition. Maybe it puts Tuukka in a better mindset. There were nights when Tuukka [played] back-to-backs. That’s a lot of stress on the goaltender knowing… I think two years ago we didn’t have a win by our backup at Christmas time,” said Don Sweeney, on July 1 after signing Halak to a two-year contract. “I’m not sure you guys wrote about it, but I did, and I lost sleep about it.

“I think we have two guys that have carried the ball for their teams, [and] that will push each other, that will complement each other, and we feel good that now going in every night. That is an area we aren’t going to be concerned about, hopefully. Obviously, it’s [about] the performance now.”

Now here’s the fork in the road where the inalienable Bruins goaltending facts and some good, old-fashioned speculation go their separate ways.

It doesn’t mean that it’s going to happen, but the addition of Halak for multiple years also opens up the possibility of trading away Rask if the right deal comes across Sweeney’s desk. The $2.75 million per season that the Bruins are paying Halak is the going rate for a top-of-the-line goalie, but it now also means the B’s are paying just under $10 million per season over the next two years for their goaltending tandem. That’s a whopping 12.5 percent of the $79.5 million in salary cap space, which is much less than either of the teams in this spring’s Stanley Cup Final (Vegas paid $6.4 million for their goalies and Washington paid $7.6 million for the Braden Holtby/Philipp Grubauer combo) shelled out for their goaltending.

In fact, only Montreal is spending more money on goaltending than the Bruins this season thanks to the awful Carey Price contract, and – along with the Bruins -- only the Panthers, Canadiens and Avalanche are paying north of $9 million in cap space for their goalies next season. For a Bruins team that was just barely in the NHL’s top-10 in save percentage and where the goaltending wasn’t really a demonstrable strength in the playoffs, that feels like a lot.  

MORE FROM JOE HAGGERTY

Rask has a limited trade clause for this upcoming season where he can be traded to eight NHL teams, and that “can be traded to” list gets bumped up to 15 teams in the following season. The Bruins did everything possible last season to make sure that Rask was mentally and physically rested with the 54 appearances, which was right around the targeted 55-60 games the Bruins had him penciled in for at the start of last season.

But even after all that rest and being given the high maintenance treatment, Rask still responded with a shaky postseason that was the worst statistically of his career. The 2.88 goals against average and .903 save percentage were the worst playoff marks of his NHL career, and Rask was an absolute disaster in their Game 7 showdown with the Maple Leafs. If the Bruins hadn’t completely shut down Toronto in the first half of the third period where they didn’t allow a shot on net (and didn’t allow Rask to even be a factor in the balance of that game), they probably wouldn’t have even advanced beyond the first round prior to their second round smack-down at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Rask was better in the second round vs. Tampa and added to his career highlight reel when he angrily fired a broken skate blade at the boards, but there are still some of the very same, nagging questions about Boston’s top goalie when it comes to big games.   

So why not start to explore what Rask could yield in a hockey trade, and even pull the trigger if the price is right given that Halak is there as a proven starting goaltender? There has been plenty of talk about Torey Krug being on the move if the right trade comes up to fit Boston’s needs, and there’s no reason why Boston’s All-Star, $7 million a year goaltender shouldn’t be part of that roster improvement conversation as well.

Nobody is saying to ship Rask simply for the sake of doing it, and clearly the Bruins would need to find themselves a young goalie they could groom as the eventual No. 1 guy to go along with the older, declining Halak. But the signing of Halak officially opened the door for the Bruins to at least toy with the idea of moving Rask in a good hockey trade to a team desperate for goaltending help (Carolina, the Islanders and the Flyers immediately come to mind), and that might not be such a bad thing for the Black and Gold.  

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE