OTTAWA – David Pastrnak is 18 years old. Ryan Spooner, 23, is a third-year pro, but has never been regarded as a reliable defensive center.
As such, the linemates will find themselves in hairy defensive situations. They are second-line players skating with Milan Lucic, so they will play tough competition. It is up to the coaching staff to determine when to give Spooner and Pastrnak rope, or take away their shifts for more experienced defensive players.
“Those young guys are good players for us,” said coach Claude Julien. “They need to play when it’s necessary. In order for them to get better, they need to play. At some point, if I see they’re having trouble . . . they did last game a little bit. Then you’ve got to make sure to make those adjustments. They bring a lot to our lineup. A lot more positive than negative. I’m going to stick with those guys to continue to evolve and get better.”
Spooner and Pastrnak are dynamic offensive players. They skate with pace. They have good hands. Pastrnak entered the league without a second thought of ripping pucks on net. Spooner, who scored twice in Tuesday’s 3-1 win is shooting more during this recall (20 shots on net in eight games) than during previous promotions.
But it is no surprise that both players have defensive shortcomings because of their inexperience and lack of size. There were stretches over the weekend (Sunday against Detroit, Saturday against Philadelphia) when Lucic, Spooner, and Pastrnak got trapped in the defensive zone.
The Wings tied the game in the first period against the No. 2 line. Brendan Smith initiated the breakout by slipping a pass up the wall past Spooner. Once the Wings gained the zone, they controlled the puck along the boards. Riley Sheahan won a wall battle against Pastrnak. After Lucic failed to clear the puck off the wall, Gustav Nyquist slipped a shot through an Adam McQuaid screen that floated past Niklas Svedberg.
In the third period, when the Wings pushed their hardest, Julien looked at other options. For one shift, Lucic rolled with Max Talbot and Carl Soderberg. Later in the third, the Bruins lined up several defensive-zone faceoffs. Julien likes to send out two centers for such draws in case one gets tossed from the circle. For one defensive-zone draw, he replaced Pastrnak with Talbot. On another, Gregory Campbell took Pastrnak’s spot.
Julien replaced Spooner and Pastrnak in Tuesday’s third period, too. Campbell and Talbot lined up with Lucic for one shift.
Spooner and Pastrnak are the future. Spooner could be Soderberg’s replacement as the No. 3 center. Pastrnak projects to be a top-two right wing. They’re learning three-zone play on the fly. But with their team fighting for a playoff spot, their coach isn’t ready to take off the defensive leash just yet.
At a crossroads
This is Svedberg’s third professional season in North America. He is 25 years old. Technically, Svedberg has played in 12 career NHL games. (A goaltender must have played at least 30 minutes for a game to be registered as such.) Unless Tuukka Rask gets hurt, Svedberg will finish 2014-15 with fewer than 28 NHL games played.
Because of these thresholds, Svedberg will qualify as a Group 6 unrestricted free agent at year’s end. It’s likely he will be looking for work elsewhere.
Svedberg started the season well. But his confidence and his game have dipped since Dec. 27, when he was first pulled after one period against Columbus. Svedberg shut out New Jersey in his next start Jan. 8. But Svedberg lasted only one period against Dallas Feb. 10.
Julien acknowledged thinking about hooking Svedberg in Sunday’s third period. With the Bruins up 4-1, Svedberg allowed Detroit’s Luke Glendening to score on an unscreened shot from the right circle.
If the Bruins let Svedberg walk, they will enter 2015-16 with their fourth backup in four years. Anton Khudobin and Chad Johnson preceded Svedberg.
Brian Ferlin was the healthy scratch for the third straight game. Given Talbot’s play and the resurgence of the fourth line, Ferlin may have to wait for his next chance. “A lot of the little things that make a difference,” Julien said of Talbot’s contributions. “He’s a very smart player . . . He’s rejuvenated that fourth line, no doubt.” . . . The Senators attempted 74 shots, the Bruins only 43 . . . Rask turned 28 on Tuesday.