fb-pixel Skip to main content
FLUTO SHINZAWA | ON HOCKEY

David Pastrnak thrives in one-on-one situations

David Pastrnak has the speed and stick skills to pop in breakaway goals such as this one against Ottawa.Barry Chin/Globe staff/file 2016

David Pastrnak always plays with exuberance. But the 20-year-old’s vibrance becomes enhanced when the puck is on his stick and one defender stands between him and the net.

“I love it. I love one-on-one,” said Pastrnak, who noted Sidney Crosby and John Tavares among the best in the business. “Ever since I was a kid, I love it. I played a lot of one-on-one when I was a kid against other kids. I love one-on-one. That was my favorite drill.”

There are players who are good at beating opponents head to head. Ex-Bruin Blake Wheeler is an almost unstoppable mixture of size (6 feet 5 inches, 225 pounds) and strength on the puck when he accelerates to highway speed. Former Boston College forward Johnny Gaudreau employs slipperiness and deception to make defenders swing and miss.

Advertisement



Pastrnak, the Bruins’ second-leading scorer (26-28—54 in 58 games), has good sprinkles of speed and elusiveness to his approach. He can mash the gas and blow past a defender. He can put his quick stick on the highest setting to deke through an opponent. The mix of options tucked in Pastrnak’s bag would make any defenseman swallow extra hard when he sees the right wing approaching with the puck.

“I think he’s a threat to blow right by you or dangle you, for lack of a better term,” said coach Bruce Cassidy. “That’s the tough matchup. Some guys you know have got great speed, but they’re not going to try [dangling]. That’s what they’re going to use. Whereas he’s kind of a two-pronged attack guy. That’s why as a defender, you just don’t know what’s coming. Other guys have nifty hands, but they can’t accelerate. He can do both.”

Pastrnak showed those skills in one head-snapping shift against Dallas on Feb. 26.

After the right wing collected a rim off the wall in the offensive zone, he dangled around Cody Eakin. When Stephen Johns tried to slow Pastrnak, he applied a quick burst to get past the defenseman and skate through his stick check. Then when Johnny Oduya tried to blast Pastrnak off the puck, the right wing rolled off the check and found Patrice Bergeron in front. In turn, Bergeron dished to Brad Marchand for the opening goal.

Advertisement



“He can certainly move sideways and get back moving north,” Cassidy said. “East, west, north, and he does it in a hurry. He’s not an easy guy to hit because of that. He’s much stronger on his feet now. I imagine that will grow going forward as well, so he’ll be even more difficult. If you do get a piece of him, which is difficult, his balance is better. His core strength has improved in that area.”

Pastrnak is trying to become a right-shot version of Patrick Kane. Defenders rarely lay a clean lick on Kane. Nor do they strip the puck off his blade because of his balance, agility, and unparalleled stick skills. The fear of Kane’s speed and creativity regularly places defenders in bad spots. They give him too much space because of his devastating puckhandling, which grants Kane plenty of time to make his magic happen.

Pastrnak is not in Kane’s class, which has a membership of one. But the player who used to fall down or bail out on puck races does not do as much of either as a third-year pro. If Pastrnak sees a one-on-one opportunity, he will take it with stick ready and smile wide.

Advertisement



“It’s always a challenge,” Pastrnak said.

“You try to beat him with a move. It’s fun for me. I like to challenge myself one-on-one.”

Some offensive-minded wingers need help from their linemates. Patrik Laine is most dangerous when Mark Scheifele is threading him pucks. While Alex Ovechkin can still go on solo scoring romps, the Washington captain is a handful to defend when Nicklas Backstrom sets him up for left-side one-timers.

One of Pastrnak’s assets is his ability to be a self-starting offensive player. As much as he enjoys receiving five-on-five dishes from David Krejci or one-up feeds from Torey Krug, Pastrnak can create scoring chances for himself or his teammates.

It’s why Cassidy didn’t have a problem about breaking up the NHL’s best 200-foot line when he replaced Claude Julien. Yes, Pastrnak had chemistry with Marchand and Bergeron. But Pastrnak is not wholly dependent on his center. His ability to initiate offense allows him to play with anybody.

The result is a more balanced lineup. Marchand and Bergeron are doing their thing with David Backes riding shotgun. The clever Krejci is playing at a higher tempo with Pastrnak on his right side.

“It was much about balance,” Cassidy said, “and much about who would mesh with Krech.”

Pastrnak is still pumping pucks on net. Under Julien, Pastrnak averaged 18.3 shot attempts per 60 minutes of five-on-five play, according to www.corsica.hockey. In nine games under Cassidy’s watch, primarily as the No. 2 right wing, Pastrnak has averaged 18.9 attempts.

Advertisement



In all situations, Pastrnak has landed 202 pucks on goal, second most on the team after Bergeron (235). He brings a five-game point streak into Monday’s showdown with Ottawa.

That would make anybody smile.

.   .   .

A zipper-like line of approximately 25 stitches runs across the right side of Adam McQuaid’s neck, courtesy of Backes’s errant skate slash in Saturday’s 3-2 win over New Jersey. That stitches were all McQuaid needed underscores his good fortune. Backes’s blade could have done far more damage to the defenseman, who was held out of practice Sunday.

“It was scary,” Cassidy said. “We got lucky. Even though it was an unlucky situation, he got lucky in the big picture.”

McQuaid has been cleared to play against the Senators.


Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at fshinzawa@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto.