FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Perhaps it’ll be different when the years, hockey miles, and gray hairs begin to accumulate. David Pastrnak might beg off an All-Star Game someday, as veteran superstars of the past have done. He had a great time at his third go-round.
“A little hectic, long couple days, but it’s a fun event. Especially today. The game is fun,” said Pastrnak, who also played in 2019 in San Jose and in 2020, when he was MVP in St. Louis.
In South Florida, the Atlantic’s Matthew Tkachuk took home the car keys.
“Homeboys got the win here in front of their home crowd,” Pastrnak said Saturday. “Good little regroup and in the middle of the season, a nice little break and get to see all the star players. It was definitely a lot of fun.”
Pastrnak was headed to the Florida Keys for a few days. He wasn’t planning to party the whole time, knowing that opponents will show no mercy once the Bruins return to game action Saturday against the Capitals.
And rightfully so. The Bruins’ 39-7-5 start has the whole league talking.
“They’re kind of a different breed right now,” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said.
Spoked-B scouting reports from All-Stars here: four lines that score and defend, puck-movers and shutdown defenders, goalies that lift them during soft stretches, plus a sharp-eyed coach.
Beyond his personality traits — sunny, positive, outwardly grateful to be here — Jim Montgomery has brought an upgraded attack. Defensemen feel free to roll below the circles to make plays. Forwards cover for them. Brad Marchand called it their “tilt-a-whirl” formation.
“It’s hard to defend, because we have no idea what we’re doing, so there’s no way they can know what we’re doing,” he said during the Bruins’ recent stop in Tampa.
Flyers center Kevin Hayes, of Dorchester, said he already had a tough enough time dealing with Pastrnak, Marchand, and Patrice Bergeron when he faced his hometown squad.
“That’s who you think you’re worried about the whole entire night, and now they’re adding this to their game,” Hayes said. “It’s a consistent team that comes at you from all angles. They smoked us one game this year. I think we had another that was close. They’re one of the best teams in the league, if not the best.”
Rangers defenseman Adam Fox, who grew up on Long Island playing with Charlie McAvoy, has enjoyed seeing the Bruins’ defensemen stepping into the mix.
“They’ve got a lot of guys that are gonna hurt you. I’ve seen [Connor] Clifton get in the play. He’s got the speed to get up there. Obviously, [Matt] Grzelcyk and [Hampus] Lindholm, too. Charlie’s one of my favorite players to watch, one of my good friends, and obviously a real staple for that blue line.
“They’ve got a lot of guys back there that are highly skilled. They’re working good as a five-man unit in both ends. They shut you down defensively and go the other way quickly.”
If the Bruins can keep that up in the second half, they could cruise to the Presidents’ Trophy and home ice throughout the playoffs. With 83 points, Boston is 7 points clear of Carolina and 13 points ahead of second-place Toronto in the Atlantic Division.
In their nine games left in February, the Bruins will face seven potential playoff teams. The March schedule has 15 games, 11 of which are against teams in the hunt. April doesn’t offer many rest days, either: seven games in 13 days, four playoff-caliber tests.
Montreal is the last game of the regular season (April 13 at Bell Centre).
“The last game we played against them was really fun,” Canadiens captain Nick Suzuki said. “It went down the wire. They’re always going to be a big rival for us. They have the structure we’re trying to build. We want to be like them.
“It’s all about the core. Those guys have been together for a long time, they’re really good players, and they want to be there.”
While the next nine weeks will surely jumble the order, the Bruins could face a team like the Rangers (62 points), Capitals (60), or Penguins (57) in the first round. They could also meet the up-and-coming Sabres, who have clawed their way into the playoff race (56 points).
“Coming into the Garden, you know it’s going to be a battle,” Sabres All-Star defenseman Rasmus Dahlin said. “I love the challenge. I feel like they have it all. Such a good defense. Such a good offense. They take away your time. They’re a great team.”
And, he added, the Bruins don’t beat themselves.
“It’s mentally frustrating,” Dahlin said. “They want to play a 1-0 game. You keep trying for 55 minutes, and if you break down for five, they’ll score a goal. They have it all.”
Watching from afar, Vegas coach Bruce Cassidy was most struck by the consistency of his old team.
“I know, I was there,” he said. “I see the drive of the top players who want to be the best every night. We talked about a standard for years, playing to our standard, no matter who we played against.
“With Patrice in the room and March, and now you’re seeing the growth of Pastrnak, McAvoy. [Linus] Ullmark to me was the big one — he finished really well last year and has carried that into this year. Now you’re creating competition with [Jeremy] Swayman at that position. That’s a great thing for Boston. It’s worked out really well in their favor.
“I see very competitive people that want to push each other, and when you get that internal competition, that’s when your team pops.”