TORONTO — Radek Faksa broke to the net. Because he floated in from high in the offensive zone, Faksa got to the front before his North American opponents even noticed his presence. Still, the Czech Republic wing didn’t believe his unmarked slice to the slot would lead to a scoring chance.
But Faksa was pleasantly surprised to find the puck on his stick, courtesy of a no-look feed from David Pastrnak. After receiving such a slick dish, it was Faksa’s duty to bury the puck behind Connor Hellebuyck and give the Czechs a 2-0 third-period lead in Wednesday’s World Cup exhibition finale.
“David, he just didn’t look at me at all, so I didn’t expect him to pass at all,” said Faksa. “But I guess he saw me before he got the puck. He just passed to me and I hit the net.”
After careening in on the forecheck (blowing a tire twice, of course), Pastrnak retrieved a loose puck behind the goal line. Ryan Murray closed on Pastrnak and tried to angle him away with his stick. But Pastrnak calmly considered his options, spotted Faksa cutting to the net, put his head back down, and snapped a blind backhander into the slot.
Asked how he made the pass, Pastrnak said with a smile, “I don’t know. Easily. I had the puck behind the net and I had a little time. So I put my head up and I see him coming down. So then I just tried to control the puck, keep going, and pass it in front of the net.”
The Czechs start the preliminary round of the World Cup of Hockey Saturday. They did not receive any favors in the scheduling. They open against Team Canada, the favorite to win the tournament.
For the Czechs to score an upset, they’ll have to rely on goaltender Michal Neuvirth to take goals off the scoreboard. At the other end, they have to find ways to play with the puck, get behind the Canadians, and take high-quality shots.
Given his skill, Pastrnak, who started the exhibition finale alongside Ondrej Palat and Martin Hanzal, could be a go-to offensive player. But as the Bruins know well, putting Pastrnak into scoring situations isn’t that simple. Pastrnak played a team-low 10:45 against North America, partly because of the Czechs’ penalty issues, but also because he was not very good through two periods.
“He’s a kid who can skate like the wind and create scoring chances,” said assistant coach Vinny Prospal. “But first of all, he needs to get on the ice. If we’re going to keep playing shorthanded, then he’s not going to get that opportunity that much. For us and for him to be on the ice, we have to stay out of the penalty box. Then he can utilize his speed and his hands.
“He was great in the third period, made a really nice play on the forecheck, then a really, really nice play from behind the net for Radek Faksa to score his second goal.”
Last year, Pastrnak played 25 shorthanded seconds for the Bruins, all of which took place at the end of penalty kills. It’s unlikely he will ever be asked to shut down a power play. Putting Pastrnak on an NHL penalty kill would be as impractical as Apple eliminating the headphone jack from the iPhone.
It is Pastrnak’s responsibility, however, to make himself a more trustworthy five-on-five player to earn his scoring shifts. During his first two pro seasons, the grunt work of an NHL right wing — working the walls, making good chips out of the defensive zone, backchecking properly, being strong on pucks — has not come easily.
In retrospect, the Bruins would have put Pastrnak in a better position by having him serve a proper Providence apprenticeship. He could have worked on his play away from the puck instead of learning on the job up top — and failing regularly.
What’s done cannot be undone. Coach Claude Julien has what he has: a sublimely gifted offensive player whose undependable defensive play puts him at risk of short shifts, line changes, and benchings. Worrying about his next shift is not how a young player wants to occupy his mind during a game.
The Bruins can’t afford to emphasize development over production with Pastrnak anymore, as unfair as that may be for a 20-year-old player. The Bruins are counting on him to be a first- or second-line right wing and break the 20-goal threshold for the first time. The Bruins lost their best right wing when Loui Eriksson (30-33—63), as well-rounded as they get on the right side, walked for Vancouver’s six years and $36 million.
So Pastrnak will ride with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron and play against every top line. If he can’t handle the defensive assignments, Pastrnak will be on David Krejci’s right side. Those shifts will be a little easier, but will still require Pastrnak to do the right things away from the puck.
He has no choice but to get a head start on all that in the World Cup.
“It’s the beginning of the season,” Pastrnak said. “It’s obviously exciting to be back on the ice. I feel really good. I had a good summer. I’m excited to get started.”