Bruins’ Pastrnak Must Bounce Back

David Pastrnak was the Boston Bruins’ second-best scorer during the 2018-19 regular season. By the end of the campaign, he was tied for the 14th-most goals in the league – despite appearing in just 66 games.

The star winger went down with an injury – suffered off the ice – that required surgery on his thumb. Though he was sidelined for 16 games, he didn’t skip a beat. Upon his return, Pastrnak registered seven goals and eight assists throughout the last 10 games of the season.

Bruins right wing David Pastrnak
Bruins right wing David Pastrnak had a superb 2018-19 regular season. (Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports)

The postseason has been a different story for No. 88, though. In addition to being a focal point of his oppositions’ gameplans, the 22-year-old has seemed off. While the bottom three lines have picked up the slack, the Bruins will need Pastrnak to return to form if they expect further successes.

Targetting Pastrnak

In the first round of the 2019 playoffs, the Toronto Maple Leafs targeted Pastrnak. Touching the puck without physical contact was a rarity and the winger was tossed into the boards time and time again. He wasn’t given enough space to dangle through defenders as he had all season.

The Maple Leafs also took away the winger’s greatest strength: his wrist shot. They were constantly getting in the shooting lane which either resulted in a shot being blocked or deterred Pastrnak from letting one rip altogether.

The strategy worked. Through the first three games of the series, No. 88 was limited to just one helper in 61:17 of ice time. He was subsequently given time on the second line alongside David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk. It was an experiment that has been tested throughout the season but never posed as a permanent solution.

Brad Marchand David Pastrnak Patrice Bergeron Bruins
Throughout the postseason, David Pastrnak was sporadically split up from his common linemates Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins, Dec. 2, 2017 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In Games 4 through 6, Pastrnak saw less ice time but was allowed more opportunities to shoot. He landed 16 shots on goal (compared to 10 in the three games prior), tallying two goals as a result. Pitching in with three helpers in the process, it seemed as though the superstar had bounced back. Game 7 against the Maple Leafs and Game 1 versus the Columbus Blue Jackets quickly suppressed that theory.

The consistent pressure forced Pastrnak to pass instead of shoot. He rarely had a clean look with bodies being thrown in his path. When he did get a shot off, he was either beaten by the netminder or beaten by a lack of accuracy that sent the puck into the boards. All in all, he has hit the net three times in his last two games after averaging 3.5 shots per game throughout the regular season.

In these instances, it makes onlookers wonder if the winger is still plagued by his prior injuries. He could very well be feeling the pain of the surgery he underwent in February, and a lack of rest throughout the postseason wouldn’t help – if that is the case. While this is merely a theory, it would certainly explain why Pastrnak is not looking like himself.

Bruins’ Helping Hands

Luckily for the Bruins, their depth has come up big. It has been surprising considering the lack of consistency coming from the bottom-six throughout the regular season.

Sean Kuraly, who missed nearly a month of action due to a fractured hand, had a big impact on the remainder of the Boston’s first-round series. After missing the tilt’s first four games, he lit a fire that spread throughout the rest of Boston’s locker room. They’ve been a better team since his return.

Sean Kuraly
Sean Kuraly’s return to the lineup marked a turning point for the Boston Bruins this postseason. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

Charlie Coyle has been a consistent threat throughout the early stages of the postseason. In eight games he has potted five goals and one assist while soaking up an average of 15:58 in ice time. He has undoubtedly been Boston’s best player throughout their young playoff run and is proving to be a superb trade deadline acquisition.

The Bruins have also gotten an offensive boost from those you would normally suspect. Brad Marchand has led the charge with four goals and five assists while Bergeron has accumulated five points. In addition, defenseman Torey Krug has contributed another five points and fellow blueliner Charlie McAvoy has tallied four helpers.

However, that doesn’t mean Pastrnak’s silence isn’t concerning – at least for those in Boston. The Bruins have found the well-rounded scoring they’ve craved all season, but will it be enough? They edged out a 3-2 overtime win against Columbus in Game 1 of their second-round series. It was a close call during a game in which Pastrnak earned a minus-one rating and registered just one shot on goal.

If one of Boston’s biggest stars can’t bounce back, they’re in for a rough Stanley Cup run – one that could end at the hands of the Blue Jackets. While they were able to squeak out a series win against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the road would have been a bit easier if No. 88 was a consistent contributor offensively.

While the Blue Jackets will undoubtedly target the winger (much like the Maple Leafs did), it’s something a star player is expected to overcome. It’s a barrier that he’ll have to deal with throughout the remainder of the playoffs, and, if he is unable to find a way around it, the Bruins could be in big trouble.