At the beginning of December, I expressed my concern about the Boston Bruins’ lack of wins against other teams with winning schedules, and their lack of convincing wins. The team wasn’t awful, but they weren’t particularly great either, and then they were hit with a COVID outbreak, which prevented them from playing in the second half of the month. It was very apparent that something was either going to need to change, or someone was going to need to step up.
In January, however, the Bruins have looked rejuvenated, and that very point has coincided with the return of David Pastrnak to elite form. Honestly, after the run he has been on, if Pastrnak isn’t one of the NHL’s three stars for January, what are we all doing here? As with any team, they still have issues, but overall, the season seems more auspicious now than it did less than two months ago; they’ve won 10 out of their 13 games this month, including convincing wins against good teams, and a large part of that is due to Pastrnak.
He certainly wasn’t bad to start the season, but he was struggling to find the back of the net more than usual, and was hitting a lot of posts. The return of his scoring touch has come at just the right time, and has been propelling this recent stretch for the Bruins.
The Goal Scoring Has Arrived
Through the first 26 games of the season, Pastrnak had just eight goals. That’s obviously not awful, but not what fans have come to expect from the co-winner of the 2020 Rocket Richard Trophy. He still averaged four shots on net a night, but luck wasn’t on his side.
Since their New Year’s Day matchup against the Buffalo Sabres, Pastrnak has scored 12 goals and four assists in 13 games, and, as mentioned above, the Bruins won 10 of those games. Of those 10 wins this month, five were won by more than one goal, and three were won by a four-goal margin.
Pastrnak isn’t just scoring often, he’s also scoring when the team needs him most. In Saturday’s win over the Winnipeg Jets, he scored the game-winning goal in the third period, and he scored his eleventh career hat trick in a 3-2 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers on Jan. 13. He has been the Bruins’ most valuable player in January.
The 25-year-old has made his mark as an elite goal-scoring talent in the NHL. Pastrnak has often made up for the lack of scoring depth on the team, and when he’s not playing at a phenomenal level, it exposes how much the Bruins struggle to score goals. However, while Pastrnak deserves most of the credit, it hasn’t just been him, Patrice Bergeron, and Brad Marchand willing the team to win, but the Bruins have had real consistent contributions from throughout the roster during this stretch.
Again, the team is not perfect, and fans saw that in its horrendous loss to the Carolina Hurricanes last week, but with Pastrnak regaining his scoring touch, the Bruins are finally winning more consistently.
Switching Up the Bruins’ Line Combinations
Head coach Bruce Cassidy has been critiqued for being slow to make changes to the lineup when things are going wrong. But, when the Bruins returned to play this month, he had made a major change by moving Pastrnak to the second line. With him heating up, there has been a trickle down effect with the rest of the lineup as we are seeing more contributions from depth pieces then we’ve come to expect.
For the past few seasons, we’ve been blessed to watch the “Perfection Line.” Marchand, Bergeron, and Pastrnak have been one of the best lines in the NHL. Given that the Bruins have struggled to find consistent scoring outside the three of them, many thought it would be wiser to split them up to distribute the wealth. Some even thought it should have been done last season, when David Krejci struggled to find consistent wingers in the first half, at least, Krejci seemed to think so.
For whatever reason, Cassidy rarely played Pastrnak and Krejci together when the two Czechs were still teammates. But this season, he has changed his tune and finally broke up the top line in January, moving Pastrnak down to the second line with Taylor Hall and Erik Haula. The move has paid off. Haula and Hall struggled to start the season; Haula was moved up and down the lineup, trying to find the right fit, and even spent time on the fourth line, while Hall, after finding magic on a line with Craig Smith and Krejci when he arrived in Boston, hasn’t been able to find the same level of play.
Pastrnak has 16 points in 13 games since moving to the second line, while Hall has 13 and Haula has 10. The latter two have also become major contributors, thanks to Pastrnak. This was evident in their most recent matchup against the Anaheim Ducks on Jan. 24. While they loss the game, all three members of the second line scored a goal. A win would have been nice, but this current line is not the reason they lost.
The chemistry Pastrnak has developed playing with Haula and Hall has been a huge boost to the team, and given the positive ripple effect it seems to be having throughout the lineup – six of Smith’s 13 points this season have come since taking Pastrnak’s spot on the first line – Cassidy should stick with this lineup for the time being. I doubt this is the last we’ll see of the Pastrnak, Marchand, and Bergeron line, but for now, they should ride Pastrnak’s hot streak for the benefit of depth scoring.
Bruins Finally Have Convincing Wins
Besides just winning 10 out of 13 games in this most recent stretch, the Bruins have looked convincing in those wins. They soundly beat last season’s Stanley Cup champions, the Tampa Bay Lighting, 5 – 2 on Jan. 8. In the past two weeks, they also had two wins against the always dangerous Washington Capitals and pulled out a close win over the Nashville Predators, who are currently second in the Central Division. Six of their 10 wins have come against teams that have a .500 record or better.
At the moment, there isn’t much more we can ask of this roster. Changes need to be made, but that is up to management (please find a defenseman at the trade deadline). The Bruins are getting contributions on the scoresheet from throughout the lineup in addition and thanks to the elite play of Pastrnak. Now, they just have to maintain it.
While Pastrnak has propelled this great stretch of games, as we’ve seen in the past, they can’t rely solely on his play. By the time playoffs roll around, their lack of contributions from the rest of the forwards tends to bite them in the butt. Hockey is the ultimate team sport and one superstar can’t win a championship. The big question remains, if he slows down even just a little bit, will the rest of the roster be able to maintain the contributions they’ve been making during this stretch?
They have tough opponents in the upcoming weeks as they face Colorado Avalanche on Jan. 26 and the Hurricanes on Feb. 10, who have been a complete thorn in their side this season, but if the Bruins can continue to play as well as they have during this stretch, they can matchup against any team in the NHL.
I’m Hannah Garfield, a graduate of Elon University with degrees in Film and Media Analytics. Currently, I’m pursuing my MFA in Screenwriting at Boston University. I’m a lifelong, passionate Boston sports fan and love all things Bruins.