Bruins

Scary thought for the NHL? David Pastrnak just keeps getting better and better

Scary thought for the NHL? David Pastrnak just keeps getting better and better

BOSTON – There is no question that at only 23, David Pastrnak is even better this season than he was last season when he scored a career-high 38 goals and 81 points despite missing 16 games with a thumb injury.

The game-breaking B’s right winger joined some pretty elite company by scoring his 12th goal in November on Friday in the 3-2 overtime win over the New York Rangers at TD Garden. Pastrnak became just the fourth player in NHL history to score 12 goals in each of the first two months of the season and joined Mario Lemieux, Mike Bossy and Wayne Gretzky on an exclusive list that highlights his goal-scoring prowess.

The guy is on pace for 76 goals and 129 points this season, which would tie Phil Esposito for the Bruins franchise record for single-season scores that Espo set in a monster 1970-71 season where he finished with 76 goals and a ridiculous 152 points. The goal-scoring part of it all is well-established for Pastrnak in a season where even an extended slump should see him make a legitimate run at 50 goals, and where it appears he’s going to be setting the goal-scoring pace for the NHL.

The one-timer shot is lethal on the power play, the skating and high pace of play are at a dominant level and in recent years, Pastrnak has also done a much better job of being strong on the puck as he’s physically matured from his early days as an 18-year-old in the league.

“I think he’s hitting his one-timer cleaner this year, so his execution is better on his shot. I think he’s stronger on pucks with his second effort. He’s been stronger using body position around the net,” said B's coach Bruce Cassidy. “He’s scoring more goals at the top of the crease rather than just relying on his shot or scoring off the rush.

“I think that’s one area where his game has improved in terms of the offensive side of things. We talked about that in training camp where that was what ultimately hurt us last year [in the Stanley Cup Final against the Blues]. We couldn’t get inside. So, as a group, we tried to reinforce that more and he’s taken on a little more of the responsibility in that area.”

Still, there's one area where Pastrnak continues to be underrated.

It’s his playmaking and setting up teammates. He is understandably viewed as a shoot-first sniper, but he still is creative and his passing can do damage against teams worried about his scoring ability.

“You get it anywhere around [Pastrnak] right now and he’s going to make something happen because he’s so gifted,” said Brad Marchand of his linemate, who have been able to flourish as a pair the past two seasons even when center Patrice Bergeron has missed time with injuries. “He’s so confident right now. He’s so much fun to play with.”

Pastrnak has become so much more than that, though, as he showed on the overtime game-winner Friday when he dangled around a pair of Rangers defenders before dropping a tape-to-tape pass back to a wide-open David Krejci for the winning goal.

“[Krejci] dropped it to me and I felt like I had two guys on me, so the slot was wide open,” said Pastrnak. “I just kind of threw it there, and obviously when you play with one guy for a while you get that chemistry going and expect where he should be.”

It was a slick passing play that Pastrnak probably doesn’t perfectly execute a few years ago, and really it’s something he might not have even seen developing on the ice in the recent past. Now, Pastrnak’s awareness, vision and hockey intelligence are all heightened by his five-plus seasons of experience in the NHL, and his ability to anticipate plays in the offensive zone is every bit as dangerous as his sizzling shot or top-flight skating ability.

“It’s his overall game. He’s strong. Not only can he shoot, but he can pass. He’s got so many moves one-on-one. It’s just his overall game,” said Krejci. “He’s on pace for what, 70? We haven’t had a scorer like that in a long, long time. I want him to score every game. Obviously, he would like to score as much as he can, but he’s definitely a team-guy first.

“He practices [the one-timer] every day before practice and after practice. He keeps going out there and doing his thing. But when you play with guys like Marchand and Bergeron, their chemistry is pretty awesome and fun to watch. He’s the same guy [as he’s always been] in the room, but he’s just elevated his game.”

Pastrnak has elevated his skill level when it comes to breaking games open with his goal-scoring, and that has helped open up doors for his passing and playmaking as evidenced by game-winning OT plays, and by his ranking second on the B’s roster with 17 assists through the first 26 games of this season.

“I think he’s getting more,” said Cassidy, when asked if Pastrnak gets enough recognition for his passing ability. “I think he’s known first as a guy with pace, a guy that’s one-on-one and a guy with a big shot, but I think it’s out there now if you play him just to shoot [the puck], that he’ll make plays.”

Pastrnak still has some hurdles to jump when it comes to maintaining that game-breaking ability in the playoffs after he was effectively bottled up in the Cup Final against the Blues. And he'll need to show he can stay healthy this season to put up the gaudy numbers after the off-ice thumb injury wrecked his chances of 50 goals and 100 points for the Black and Gold last season.

Still, it’s clear Pastrnak once again has become even better and more dangerous this season, and it’s made him one of the NHL's biggest offensive forces at the ripe, young age of 23. It’s scary to think how much better Pastrnak can become given everything he has going for him just as he reaches the prime of his career and invokes names such as Gretzky, Lemieux and Bossy with the season he's having. 

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Joe Haggerty's Talking Points from the B's 4-1 loss to the Avalanche

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Joe Haggerty's Talking Points from the B's 4-1 loss to the Avalanche

Here are my talking points from the Bruins’ first regulation loss at home in 2019-20:

GOLD STAR: It isn’t going to happen very often, but Ian Cole turned out to be the single biggest contributor in a team-wide win for the Avalanche. It was Cole that smoked a slap shot past the glove hand of Jaroslav Halak to give Colorado a 2-1 lead in the second period, and he made certain his first goal of the season was an important one. Cole also blocked five shots in 17:17 of ice time and was part of a gritty, determined effort to protect the lead once the Avs got up 3-1 in the third. He mixed in a couple of hits and a couple of takeaways as well, and made some big plays in what was pretty much a perfect game overall for Colorado.

HIGHLIGHTS: Bruins take first home regulation loss vs. Avs, 4-1

BLACK EYE: There’s more than a few, but how about Danton Heinen just not making the plays that he needs to make when he’s in the lineup? Forget about the zero shots on net in 16:45 of ice time, with a number of them either getting blocked or missing the net. That’s nothing new when it comes to a player that’s barely averaging a shot on net for game. But he also turned the puck over behind the Boston net in a sequence that led to Cole’s game-winner as the Bruins began to run around in the defensive zone. It was that particular play that led Bruce Cassidy to lament that the attention to details was lacking for his players at this point in the season. If Heinen isn’t making the little plays, is a minus player and isn’t bringing any offense, then he isn’t worth having in the lineup.

TURNING POINT: The Bruins went into the first intermission tied at 1-1 after only putting four shots on net, and should have had the kind of wakeup call that they needed to turn the intensity up a little bit. Instead they went through a second period where they again only put up four shots on net while falling behind by two goals headed into the final 20 minutes. The Avalanche only leveled five shots on net as well, but they scored on a pair of them and pounced all over Boston’s mistakes while playing a surprisingly disciplined, two-way game despite their explosive offensive players. This time around, the Bruins didn’t have any way to come back in the third period against a quality Colorado team that wasn’t going to fold for them.

#HaggBag: Any worries about the B's? Let's hear 'em

HONORABLE MENTION: One of the few players to put up an honest-to-goodness effort in the loss was the hard-hitting fourth liner, Chris Wagner. It was Wagner that redirected a John Moore point shot in the first period for his third goal of the season that gave the Bruins an initial lead in the game. Wagner led the Bruins with five registered hits, scored on the only shot on net he had in the game and won 5-of-10 face-offs that he took in his 12:39 of ice time. The shame was that there weren’t enough other players that rose to the level of urgency and compete that Wagner was showing throughout the game for the Black and Gold.

BY THE NUMBERS: 17 – The home point streak (12-0-5) is over for the Bruins as the Avs handed them their first regulation loss on home ice this year, and their first since Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final against the St. Louis Blues almost six months ago.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “There’s just a lot of details that are working us against us now. We’ve just got to wake up and start playing to our abilities in those situations. And live with the result. It doesn’t mean we’re going to win, but I think we’re leaving plays on the table because our lack of urgency or understanding that teams are coming after us.” –Bruce Cassidy, lamenting the lack of urgency in the B’s game as they dropped a 4-1 decision to the Avalanche.

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Highlights: Bruins can't seize momentum, fall 4-1 to Avs

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Highlights: Bruins can't seize momentum, fall 4-1 to Avs

FINAL SCORE: Avalanche 4, Bruins 1

IN BRIEF: The Bruins tied it early with a Chris Wagner tip-in off a John Moore shot from the point, but from there the Avs dictated play to hand Boston its first home loss in regulation at TD Garden in the 2019-20 season. It was a Pyrrhic victory for the Avs, though, who lost Calder Trophy favorite and former UMass star Cale Makar to injury.

BOX SCORE

BRUINS RECORD: 20-4-6 (46 points, 1st in Atlantic Division)

HIGHLIGHTS

WAGNER TIPS HOME MOORE’S SHOT FROM POINT

AVS LOSE MAKAR

UP NEXT:

At Ottawa, Monday, 7:30 p.m., NESN

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