David Pastrnak is an elite, MVP-caliber player who makes the Boston Bruins a very real threat to score every single time he's on the ice at even strength or the power play.
While the Bruins and their fans certainly had high hopes for Pastrnak this season, no one could have expected he'd play at such a dominant level so soon after returning from offseason surgery.
Pastrnak tallied the ninth hat trick of his career in Wednesday night's 4-3 overtime win against the Philadelphia Flyers on the road.
His third goal came with 15 seconds remaining in the third period and forced overtime.
In the extra period he passed up a shooting opportunity to make a slick pass to the front of the net, where linemate Patrice Bergeron cashed in to secure the victory.
Pastrnak has never scored 50 goals in a single season, and he's had some bad luck along the way. He suffered a left thumb injury during the 2018-19 season and was limited to 66 games, but still managed to score 38 goals. Last season he tied for the league lead with 48 goals as the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the final 12 regular season games.
This season's schedule has been shortened to just 56 games, and yet it wouldn't be surprising at all if Pastrnak comes close to hitting the 50-goal mark in 2021.
He's already scored five times in three games since returning to the B's lineup last Saturday. The 24-year-old right winger has tallied six points overall, with three (two goals, one assist) coming on the power play.
“It's funny, I told him my experience is sometimes what happens with guys when they miss that much time, or it's the whole offseason, is you lose your timing a bit. Your hands and your timing are a little bit out of sync,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said in his postgame press conference.
“Ha! He showed me. Usually your legs are there because you’ve been skating lots. That’s not the issue. It’s the bumping and the grinding, the timing of taking a pass and not getting hit and all that. Obviously, he’s on a mission. Good for him. We need it. ... He's a scorer, and you need those guys to win hockey games for you. He's done it the last few nights. He clearly looks energized and ready to play. We're grateful for it.”
It might sound crazy to score 50 goals in 49 games -- Pastrnak missed the first seven matchups of the season -- but he's tallied 60 (!) goals in his last 82 games. That's a pretty impressive pace. He's also playing with two of the league's best forwards in Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron, both of whom are enjoying their own awesome starts to the season. Bergeron is No. 3 in scoring with 15 points, while Marchand is tied at No. 4 with 14 points. This trio is going to create plenty of scoring chances for each other at 5-on-5 and the power play.
The Bruins were already coming out of their offensive slump before Pastrnak returned to the lineup, but he's taken the team's scoring to an even higher level.
Boston has a plus-37 edge in shot attempts, a plus-22 advantage in shots on net and a plus-14 mark in scoring chances at even strength when Pastrnak is on the ice. Boston also is outscoring opponents 9-3 with Pastrnak on the ice in all situations. Sure, it's only a three-game sample size, but it's still an indication of how much more potent the Bruins offense can be when one of the league's most talented scorers is on the ice.
Pastrnak finished fourth in the Hart Trophy voting last season, and if you look at the vote tally, he wasn't close to being a finalist (top three).
This season should be different, though. If Pastrnak continues to play anywhere near this rate and the Bruins again finish among the top teams in the overall regular season standings, he absolutely should be a Hart Trophy finalist for the first time in his career.