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.