David Pastrnak will be a good NHL player.
He moves like a sports car. He processes offensive situations rapidly. Pucks slingshot off his stick, like the sure goal he snapped off his blade in Wednesday’s third period that Steve Mason somehow yanked out of his net.
But the NHL is not friendly to 19-year-olds going through on-the-job training. There is nowhere to hide when you don’t play the right way. Teenager or not, Claude Julien will not accept Pastrnak’s age as an excuse for the manner in which he played in the Bruins’ 5-4 overtime loss to the Flyers.
“It’s about respecting the game more than just scoring goals,” Julien said. “There’s a learning curve there. There’s also a respect factor there. You’ve got to understand that there’s more to the game than just trying to be flashy. He had a tough night. You’re going to see him have some better nights down the road. He’s certainly not the single guy to point out. We were bad as a team. A lot of guys would just go in the battle, take a swing at the puck, and curl the other way. That’s not the way we play. It’s not the way we’re going to accept players to play on our team.”
Pastrnak’s game is about offense. He started the night alongside Loui Eriksson and David Krejci with the expectation that he would help create scoring chances. By the second period, Jimmy Hayes’s whirring legs had earned him a promotion to ride with Krejci.
With less than three minutes remaining in regulation, fourth-liner Tyler Randell got a shift with Eriksson and Krejci. Randell, despite his offensive limitations, had gained more of Julien’s trust.
That’s because even offensive-minded players such as Pastrnak are expected to make good, hard, smart plays — chipping pucks out, getting them deep, engaging in battles, and making crisp line changes.
Pastrnak (two shots on net, 14:16 of ice time) fell short in every category.
On Wayne Simmonds’s tying third-period goal, Pastrnak couldn’t get the puck deep. When the Flyers started the counterattack, neither he nor his linemates offered any neutral-zone resistance.
In the first period, Pastrnak failed several times to clear the zone. Finally, with no forecheckers in sight, Pastrnak scraped the puck off the boards and lifted it out of the zone with help from Krejci. But then Pastrnak and his linemates went for a change. Seconds later, Sam Gagner picked the corner to give the Flyers a 2-1 lead. The NHL is not the place to make stick fights turn into a habit.
“We played a light game tonight,” Julien said. “A lot lighter than them.”
Previous Black-and-Gold editions could have afforded to shelter learners such as Pastrnak. Other rosters have been more robust. Julien had more players he could trust. In late-game situations, Julien would have nailed Pastrnak to the bench and rolled his reliable players.
The trouble is that Pastrnak has company when it comes to being unreliable. There are too many trick-or-treat players for Julien to hide. On every shift, there are players who could do good things or implode.
Ryan Spooner can work magic on the power play. Or he can hook Michael Del Zotto in overtime. Zac Rinaldo can create a scoring chance. Or he can light up former teammate Sean Couturier and put his team down a man for five minutes.
As Julien considers his 20-player lineup, half of his roster, if that, is a sure thing. He knows what he’s going to get from his elite duo of Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. Others in the trusted category include Eriksson, Krejci, Chris Kelly, and even Randell.
On the back end, Julien can expect certain things from Zdeno Chara, Torey Krug, and Adam McQuaid.
The rest of the lineup, however, is a coin flip. And that includes the goaltender.
Tuukka Rask had one goal he wanted back. In the first period, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare shot a puck that bonked off Rask’s glove. Bellemare scored on the rebound.
The others were peas: Gagner on a way-too-slack Kevan Miller, Claude Giroux on a rebound after Miller booted the puck away, Simmonds’s dart over a sliding McQuaid, and Giroux’s overtime one-timer.
But goalies with Vezinas in their collections and $7 million annually pouring into their bank accounts have to bail out their boys.
“I wouldn’t call it a struggle,” said Rask (five goals on 37 shots). “But then again you let in five, four goals every game. Can’t be pretty happy about that.”
Rask had a few game-changers, such as the kick save on Simmonds that led to Hayes’s second-period goal. But not enough.
“There may be mistakes,” Julien said of defensive breakdowns. “But that’s why you have a goalie to stop those. I don’t think he’s making excuses, either. He’s pretty good about owning up to his play. We need to be better as a group, from the goaltender on out. Our D’s didn’t close quick. They had a lot of time to make plays. We were soft in battles.”
Kevan Miller had a tough night. That will happen. But it’s compounded when Colin Miller and Tommy Cross struggle with the forecheck like they did in the first period.
It forces Julien and assistant coach Doug Houda to mix their pairs. It leaves them wondering what they’re going to get on every shift.
Right now, the coaches don’t know what to expect.