If there were any questions about how David Pastrnak would look after returning ahead of schedule from offseason hip surgery, he has answered them all in short order.
But the confirmation that Pastrnak is still the elite scorer that completes the Bruins’ top line goes beyond the five goals he’s scored in his first three games.
Pastrnak is playing with the kind of confidence and creativity that have been essential to his game over his seven years in the NHL.
He is both an imposing presence and a constant threat. Even as the Bruins fell behind, 3-1, to the Philadelphia Flyers Wednesday night, there was always a possibility that Pastrnak could make something happen in a blink, because he had already done it.
Off the initial faceoff, Pastrnak wrapped around the left side, then immediately went into his bag of tricks. He lost Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere with a casual between-the-legs move that made his off-the-post goal feel like an afterthought.
That stickwork not only makes Pastrnak who he is but shows just how comfortable he is after a four-month recovery.
“Over the years and experience, I found out that the best hockey I played, I had to be confident on the ice, have to play my game,” Pastrnak said. “No matter if it’s a bad night or a good night, you know, just try being confident because that’s how I can help the team with offensive plays and that’s where I’m at my best.”
It’s the kind of confidence that can carry a team through dry spells. The Bruins have climbed out of three-goal deficits in each of their past three games — winning the last two — and Pastrnak’s fingerprints have been all over each rally.
As much as Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy knows Pastrnak’s punch can be a luxury, he sometimes hopes it doesn’t become a crutch.
“There’s not a lot of cons other than maybe guys just figure, ‘Well, Pasta will get hot, he’ll do it, he’ll carry us,’ ” Cassidy said. “I would say that’s the only thing that could go through a player’s head if they’re having a tough night. ‘I don’t need to push through. The power player or Pasta [will do it.].’ ”
But Cassidy said the pros far outweigh any possible cons.
“That’s one of the reasons why we feel we’re not out of games, because we have a guy like that that can get hot,” Cassidy said. “That and then secondary scoring underneath that. So that’s the advantage.”
Having that kind of weapon so soon is the surprising part. Initially, the Bruins set mid-February as the target for Pastrnak’s return. He went through workouts on his own before joining the team for full-contact practice last week.
With limited preparation, he has performed at the level that’s made him a four-time All-Star and last year’s Rocket Richard Trophy winner.
“Sometimes what happens with guys when they miss that much time or it’s a whole offseason is you lose your timing a bit — your hands and your timing are a little bit out of synch,” Cassidy said. “Usually your legs are there because you’ve been skating a lot. So that’s not the issue.
“It’s the bumping and the grinding, the timing of taking a pass and not getting hit and all that. But obviously, he’s on a mission. Good for him.”
Pastrnak’s hat trick against the Flyers was the ninth of his career. He has slid seamlessly back into his role alongside Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, and he gave credit to his linemates for making it easy.
“It says a lot of things,” Pastrnak said. “Having teammates, linemates helped me out with it. Playing on the same line so many years, it’s always chemistry there. I don’t need to build the new chemistry or stuff like that.
“The recovery was really, really long. Something that I haven’t had in my career. So it’s been a long wait and long itching to get back out there.
“But as soon as I step on the ice and felt like I did after the surgery, I knew I can get my conditioning up and be feeling great.
Pastrnak has shown no traces of hesitance to shoot. He has attempted 37 shots and put 19 on goal. Cassidy wants to see that aggressiveness.
“He wants to score; he gets more determined if he doesn’t,” Cassidy said. “So that’s the other advantage with him is he has a mind-set that he wants to score goals. He wants to get available, wants to work hard, he wants to shoot the puck, to get on the scoresheet, because he knows it helps us win.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.