NHL Awards voters showing no respect to David Pastrnak, and it's a damn shame

NHL Awards voters showing no respect to David Pastrnak, and it's a damn shame

BRIGHTON, Mass. — David Pastrnak made his long-awaited debut at Bruins camp on Wednesday and will undoubtedly be back at his usual spot at right wing with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand on the unstoppable Perfection Line when the entire group takes the ice together on Thursday.

Unfortunately, it looks like that’s going to be the biggest fanfare when it comes to No. 88 over the next couple of weeks. The NHL’s leading goal-scorer and the B’s first Rocket Richard Trophy winner was overlooked for the Ted Lindsay Award when the three finalists of Leon Draisaitl, Nathan MacKinnon and Artemi Panarin were announced by the NHLPA on Tuesday.

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The award is voted on by the players, of course, so it was interesting that Pasta didn’t make the cut this time around. But it will also likely will serve as a preview of Hart Trophy finalists for the NHL’s MVP when they are announced later this week. The expectation is Pastrnak will once again be left out in the cold for national NHL award recognition despite numbers equal or better to Panarin, and superior stats in just about every category when compared with MacKinnon.

Even Pastrnak himself said he would have voted for Draisaitl as the Hart winner if it was up to him when talking about it with reporters a few weeks ago.

“For me, it’s absolutely no question,” said Pastrnak. “For me, Leon Draisaitl was showing up the whole season. A lot of people say, ‘Oh he’s playing with Connor (McDavid).’ Connor was hurt for a month and he brought it up even another level. For me, it’s absolutely no question it’s going to be and should be Leon Draisaitl. The way he played this year is absolutely no question for me.”

It feels like it should also be “no question” that Pastrnak deserves to be one of the finalists for these awards.

Sometimes when it comes to the NHL Awards, players start earning nominations and votes a year after they break through into the national hockey media consciousness. That may happen with Pastrnak even as he led the Bruins with 48 goals scored after basically leading the league wire-to-wire this season. Pastrnak finished tied for third with 95 points in 70 games played, led the NHL with 20 power play goals and finished tied with Draisaitl with an impressive 10 game-winning goals on his résumé.

Panarin had as many points and more assists than Pastrnak along with a better plus/minus, but one could argue it wasn’t even for a playoff team with the Russian playmaker because the Rangers wouldn’t have made the cut if it weren’t for the unique 24-team tournament this season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pastrnak had more goals, more assists, more points, a better plus/minus, and more points per game than MacKinnon, who also played on a very talented line with players like Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog for most of the season in Colorado.

So what’s the big reason that Pastrnak isn’t getting the credit he’s due?

Some of it is that he’s just 23 years old and still emerging as one of the NHL’s best players. But the biggest reason is that NHL Awards voters — and his peers — are discounting his accomplishments because he skates on a line with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. The argument goes that the other players are more valuable to their teams because the quality of the roster, and their teammates, isn’t as high as it is with the Bruins and the Perfection Line.

The truth when it comes to Pastrnak and rating him?

The right winger drives that Perfection Line for the Bruins these days. Of course, Patrice Bergeron is the two-way anchor and the best defensive forward in the league who's also become a perennial 30-goal scorer in recent seasons. And Marchand is a Hart Trophy-level player in his own right these days in the prime of his NHL career.

But it’s Pastrnak who has become the driving offensive force and game-breaking phenomenon on that line, and for the entire Bruins team.

Only MacKinnon, Alex Ovechkin, Max Pacioretty and Auston Matthews generate more shots on net than Pastrnak, and Pastrnak is now the biggest power play weapon in the entire NHL at this point in his career. Pasta finished with four more PP goals than anybody else in the league and is the focal point offensively for the Bruins at both 5-on-5 play and on special teams.

Panarin had a 40-goal scorer as a teammate in Mika Zibanejad on the Rangers this season, and as mentioned earlier, MacKinnon spent pockets of this season on a similar “super line” with Rantanen and Landeskog.

So why is Pastrnak getting the Rodney Dangerfield treatment when it comes to his teammates and fighting for NHL Awards respect after leading the NHL in goals scored all season?

Perhaps we’ll all be surprised and Pastrnak will get his just due when the Hart Trophy winners are announced. More likely, he’s paying his dues this season for national recognition when he had a chance to be only the third player in the last 20 years to hit the 60-goal mark if he’d gotten hot in the final month of the regular season (had it been played).  

It's a damn shame Pastrnak won't be recognized more for this season's greatness. 

The good news: Pastrnak is 23 years old and just scratching the surface of how dominant he’s going to be for the next 10 years or so. But it’s too bad that one of the best Bruins seasons in the franchise’s near-100-year history is going to be largely ignored by NHL Awards voters who should have been paying more respect to the best right winger in the league these days.

Maybe it's time to stop doubting the Bruins top guys after busting out in Game 1

Maybe it's time to stop doubting the Bruins top guys after busting out in Game 1

Is everybody done talking about the round robin now?

The Bruins went out and showed on Wednesday that they indeed saved their real live bullets for the actual Stanley Cup Playoffs in a 4-3 double overtime win over the Carolina Hurricanes in the Toronto Bubble at Scotiabank Arena.

After being held scoreless in each of the three round-robin losses, the Perfection Line exploded for a pair of goals, including the double overtime game-winner from Patrice Bergeron and a nifty first period face-off play where all three forwards touched the puck before David Pastrnak finished things off.

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Bergeron, Pastrnak and Brad Marchand clearly weren’t at their all-time best as Marchand finished with just a single shot on net and the four turnovers from Pasta was a result of being far too casual with the puck. And the top power play unit featuring all three forwards was once again a train wreck and is now 0-for-13 in the Toronto bubble while also falling victim to a shorthanded goal against Carolina.

But Boston’s three amigos also once again demonstrated pretty clearly that the Carolina defense isn’t going to be able to do much to stop them.

Carolina’s best shutdown D-man Jaccob Slavin was on ice for both of the top line's goals and Slavin made a crucial mistake turning his back to the face-off play that Pastrnak finished off at the net right in front of his face. That left both Slavin and Dougie Hamilton as a minus-2 for the game, and Slavin is now a minus-5 in five playoff games against the Bruins over the last two postseasons.

It really doesn’t bode well for the Hurricanes if their best shutdown players can’t effectively slow down Boston’s best offensive players in the least.

After it was over, Bruce Cassidy didn’t exactly say “I told you so,” but stressed that he wasn’t worried about his best forwards showing up now that the Stanley Cup Playoff bell has really been rung.

“These guys are battle tested. Certainly Bergy [Patrice Bergeron] and Marchy [Brad Marchand], and Pasta [David Pastrnak] has been through it — not as much as those guys. We’ve got a lot of trust in those guys. We have discussions. Where is your game at?” said Bruce Cassidy. “Don’t forget that Pasta missed what a lot of teams went through — the training camp. Even though they’ve played together a long time, it’s been four months and change. Now you’re coming into a part of the season that is high stakes.

“We knew there would be a little bit of… I don’t know if rust is the right word. We would take some time for them to make some little plays. Overtime is them. The faceoff play was them. They missed a little bit of that in the round robin. Tonight, they know that there is a little more at stake as well. Put those two things together, those two factors together and we knew they’d be there and competing, and competing at a high level. When they do that, they’re so talented and smart that they know things are going to happen for them — and they did.”

Certainly, the top guys for the Bruins weren’t alone in operating at a high level against the Hurricanes in Game 1. David Krejci scored on a nifty play where Ondrej Kase set up a rebound by firing a puck from his knees, and Charlie Coyle and Anders Bjork crashed the net to disrupt Petr Mrazek and score a very important second period goal.

The secondary scoring was there in this one, but the scoring was bookended by two goals from a healthy, rested Perfection Line that is just getting started this postseason.

“We were confident. We’re a confident group, confident line. I think we got better as we went on in the round robin. Obviously, you want to keep getting better and taking the next step, especially we thought that [Game 1] was a really important game, starting round one,” said Bergeron. “So we had to put whatever was behind us in the past and get some rhythm going. I thought [David Krejci’s] line and [Sean Kuraly’s] line, they got some momentum for us, they got us going and I thought we followed up.

“When things are going well at times you [can] get complacent and you don’t work on things you need to work on. Obviously, you want things to go well all the time, that’s a perfect scenario. [But] we were able to look at video and look at the areas that we can get better at. I thought as a team we did that throughout the round robin and now it’s behind us. We’re focused on Game 2. That’s all I can really tell you. I think that’s how we were trying to approach it.”

The Bruins' top guys really don’t need to explain anything to anybody after they went out and played like the stars that they are at the start of the real postseason. Now the trick is going to be sustaining it, staying healthy and continuing to up everybody across the board as the competition and intensity level raises with each game in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

But the Perfection Line served notice in Game 1 that they are back, well past the meaningless round robin and intent on taking care of the unfinished business from last year’s heartbreaking postseason.

It's time for Bruins to bench Nick Ritchie, go with somebody ready to battle

It's time for Bruins to bench Nick Ritchie, go with somebody ready to battle

As feel-good as any Stanley Cup Playoff game undoubtedly is, there is also time for evaluation and improvement.

It will be a quick turnaround time for the Boston Bruins after they took a 4-3 overtime win over the Carolina Hurricanes on Wednesday afternoon in the Toronto bubble at Scotiabank Arena, and that won’t give the Bruins coaching staff much time to break things down. The biggest decision will be who they should go with between the pipes -- Tuukka Rask in a back-to-back situation or backup goaltender Jaroslav Halak.

There are good reasons to go with either one of them already up 1-0 over Carolina in the best-of-seven series.

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But there are other decisions to be made, and one that the Bruins should go with starting in Thursday’s Game 2 is the removal of Nick Ritchie from the lineup.

Ritchie came into this postseason as a real question mark after playing little more than a handful of games for the Bruins after arriving at the trade deadline from Anaheim in exchange for Danton Heinen.

In theory, the 6-foot-2, 235-pound Ritchie would provide needed physical thump to the Boston lineup and play the power forward game on the wing along with big, strong third line center Charlie Coyle. But Ritchie simply played like a weak link in Boston’s overtime win against the Hurricanes in his first real playoff experience with the Black and Gold.

Krejci lines dominates & other takeaways from Game 1

The 24-year-old Ritchie finished without a shot on net in 12:50 of ice time with the Bruins on Wednesday and had four hits while sometimes taking the body against the Hurricanes. But he wasn’t nearly a big enough physical presence, and even worse played a key role in a pair of goals against for the Bruins while making both mental and physical mistakes at crucial moments.

Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy wasn’t going to hammer anybody for it after a playoff win, but Ritchie’s subpar performance certainly didn’t go unnoticed either.

“I think [the young guys] were looking after their own game. I think just one line was on the ice for a couple goals and this is Bjork’s first playoffs with us, Ritchie,” said Cassidy, referencing the third line being on the ice for a pair of goals against as well as Charlie Coyle’s second period goal for Boston. “[The veteran guys] were like ‘hey, listen stuff happens.’ Let’s make sure we tighten up the next time. Keep playing your game. They got a big goal for us, too, so there is a little bit of that communication to the new guys.

“We talked to Lauzy [Jeremy Lauzon]. Charlie [McAvoy] had to go to the dressing room for a second so Lauzy got a few extra shifts. You just battle and play. I think you have to get the first couple [of playoff games] under your belt. No one is tearing anybody down here. It’s not the time of the year to do that. We’re trying to motivate and encourage guys for sure, but the players are good that way. That’s why they’re winners. [Ondrej] Kase is another guy, first game. I thought he was fantastic. He’s on pucks all night, played his game. Had some good looks. A nice play on [David] Krejci’s goal. That line arguably was – you always look at the tape, whatever the tape after and they’re probably our most dangerous line tonight. So that is something that we talked about. Secondary scoring. Get a goal out of Charlie Coyle, third line.”

In the first period, Ritchie gave up on a play along the boards and drifted away from Warren Foegele as the entire unit of Bruins defenders puck-watched rather than working to get the puck out of the zone. Eventually it turned into a Joel Edmundson scoring point shot from the high point that Ritchie wasn’t able to put a body in front of on its way to the net. But the bigger issue was Ritchie simply giving up on a play when he was the closest to be able to give defensive support on a play that ended up going bad.

It was Ritchie again in the third period losing a battle along the boards to the much smaller Martin Necas that extended Carolina possession, and eventually ended with Haydn Fleury scoring on a point blast with a screened Tuukka Rask in front.

In both instances board battles were lost that ended up with pucks in the back of the Boston net. And if Ritchie isn’t even going to win the board battles, what is the point of his size and strength that’s bringing to the table?

Wednesday’s game was physical to be sure as a playoff opener, but it wasn’t overly nasty to the point where you need Ritchie for intimidation purposes. The Bruins would be much better off going with the speedy, two-way play of Karson Kuhlman in Game 2 on the third line while also sliding Anders Bjork to his natural left wing spot on the third line. That would give the Bruins a much faster third line that could better combat the speed and pressure that the Hurricanes are bringing to the table against the Black and Gold.

Perhaps a healthy scratch would also send a message that there’s no room for him in the lineup if he isn’t decisively winning his physical battles and playing up to the size/strength combo he was blessed with as a hockey player. Either way, the Bruins should learn from some of the mistakes that didn’t end up costing them permanently in Game 1, and Ritchie made way too many of them to stick around in the Boston lineup.