Bruins

Pastrnak's sloppy third-period play 'an area of concern'

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Pastrnak's sloppy third-period play 'an area of concern'

BOSTON – While the Bruins once again showed a gutsy effort Monday night with a rag-tag group in a 5-3 win over the Minnesota Wild despite all the injuries, there were also some lessons to be learned from the game.

Perhaps none was bigger than the way the Bruins played in the third period with a big lead, and specifically, the way David Pastrnak was managing the puck with the Bruins rolling and the Wild teetering on the edge of waving the white flag. The 21-year-old made some high-risk choices with the puck that allowed the Wild to gather confidence, hope and draw a little closer in the final 20 minutes with a couple of goals.

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One was a pass back through the middle of the ice in the defensive zone when he was already at the blue line in the D-zone, and the other was an inability to make a play to hold onto the puck at the offensive blue line that led to Eric Staal’s shorthanded goal. The Staal goal was also on Danton Heinen for throwing a pass back to him that kind of handcuffed Pastrnak while under some pressure. It was something Bruce Cassidy was thinking about postgame.

“We have to manage the puck on an entry on the power play. I think we made a poor decision. We didn’t manage it well in the offensive zone and all of a sudden they are coming back at us. But again, as a coach, I’ll look at who was on the ice, the time and score situation, have to examine that from my end,” said Cassidy. “From the players' end, they have to understand time and score as well, manage the puck. You want to score obviously when you’re on the power play, but not at all costs.

“You have to understand where you’re at in the game. That’s essentially what happened. We had a turnover, ended up in our net. We had three of those the other night against Washington, so that’s obviously an area of concern. But a lot of teams do have turnovers. We just have to make sure we minimize ours and that that’s what happened in the third I think to lead to their chances.”

The negative plays late in the game were in stark contrast to some really nice plays that Pastrnak made in the first 40 minutes to help the Bruins build a big lead, and he did finish with an assist in 18:27 of ice time. The Bruins outshot Minnesota. 15-4 in the second period in perhaps their most dominant stretch this season, but it led the way to some sloppiness and unnecessary fanciness in the final 20 minutes.

But there was a lot of truth in a Pastrnak box score that finished with him at a minus-1, and with as many giveaways (three) as shots on net (three) while getting careless at a time when the Bruins should have kept it simple. It’s all part of the learning process for a still-young player, of course, and it’s a conversation that Cassidy was planning on having with his young star winger.

“It’s a tough job right there. It’s a good question,” said Cassidy, when asked how he’d handle that kind of situation with Pastrnak. “Sometimes you’re going to give him some rope. Hopefully, he doesn’t hang himself with it. Other times you are going to pull back. That’s just a feel...sometimes it matters how the rest of the group is going. Who else is in the lineup? Are you putting a better player out there in that position? Sometimes you just send a hard message and it doesn’t matter who's there. Hey, [sometimes] enough is enough.

“There’s different ways to do it in game. [The next day], there are conversations. Hey, do you want to be a leader? You’re getting into that phase of your career. Is that how leaders play? Kind of see what he thinks of the whole situation. He might have a different answer, so those are the challenges that coach’s face trying to grow his game without shutting him right off. So that’s what we’ll do [at the next day’s practice].”

The good news is that the Bruins won and Pastrnak has rebounded nicely before from previously adventurous games with the puck, so the upcoming two-game trip through New York and Toronto should feature renewed efforts to manage the puck situationally. 
 

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.

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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.  

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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.  

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