Bruins should be fine without David Pastrnak — until the playoffs
David Pastrnak’s left hand is in a cast, and therefore the Bruins offense is in a pickle.
Or so it seemed Tuesday morning, in the moments following word that Pastrnak, their top goal scorer, would need a bare minimum of two weeks to calculate the damage done in his costly slip-and-fall while returning from a team function with the boys Sunday night.
After an impressive 6-3 win Tuesday night over Chicago, perhaps it’s best to hold the pickle. Maybe things aren’t really all that bad. Even if coach Bruce Cassidy is fully aware his offense will be stressed with his best shooter (31 goals) now silenced for the foreseeable future.
“Listen, we’re going to need it,” noted Cassidy, aware that he’ll be looking for scoring punch across the board from now through the playoffs. “We’ve talked about that a lot. We’re going to need it from certain guys.”
No fewer than five different goal scorers — including struggling sophomores Danton Heinen and Jake DeBrusk — knocked home goals in the win over the Blackhawks (seven straight wins upon arrival on Causeway Street). The Bruins have had that kind of scoring diversity in only five of their 57 games to date.
Heinen, who added a pair of silken assists vs. Chicago, now has goals in three of his last four games and is 3-3—6 in that stretch. He’s looking a lot more like the kid who posted 47 points last season, good for fifth in team scoring.
DeBrusk, now with 15 pots, hadn’t scored since Jan. 8. Despite his woes, he needs only one more strike to equal his 16 goals of last season.
“It gets to your head, naturally,” said a frustrated DeBrusk. “You just try not to overcomplicate your game, but at the same time you do want to force things — you want to force more shots, try to get more chances.
“The one thing most frustrating for me of late was that I really wasn’t getting chances.”
As for the overall need for everyone to put the puck in the net, the Bruins have scored at least five goals in two of their last three games, and one of those did not include the sharpshooting Pastrnak.
Truth is, this is a club that can win its fair share, and breeze to the playoffs, without No. 88 as its No. 1 health provider.
Now, getting through a playoff round against, say, the Maple Leafs or Lightning (their opponents last spring) without Pastrnak? Don’t bet on it. He went 6-14—20 in 12 games against those two clubs a year ago, and the Bruins went packing after Round 2. They’ll need him in April. Big time. But they can score enough, and win enough, in the meantime.
Keep in mind how the Bruins were scoring even with Pastrnak in full flight. In the 15 games prior to his exit, they scored more than three goals in only three. In those 12 games with fewer than four goals, they were still above water (5-3-4). For the record, the Bruins were 1-1-3 in five of those 12 low-scoring games in which Pastrnak scored, and 4-2-1 when he did not.
They’ve proven they can win tight games without his assistance.
“Doesn’t [help] when your best goal scorer goes down, obviously,” said goalie Tuukka Rask, the winner Tuesday and now 10-0-2 since his last regulation loss Dec. 23. “But I think we feel pretty confident in our depth.
“Guys have shown they are capable of scoring. It’s just a matter of finding that confidence level. Great to see Heino and Jake get some goals and make some good plays. And six goals . . . good for a goalie.”
Of the eight Eastern Conference teams in playoff positions Wednesday morning, only the Islanders (136) had allowed fewer goals than the Bruins (148). Among the eight Western seeds, only the Stars (140) were stingier. Rask is hot. The defense is in full working order. No reason to think the defensive approach will change with Pastrnak hors de combat.
An added encouraging sign on offense Tuesday was how well David Krejci, who typically commandeers the No. 2 power-play unit, moved into Pastrnak’s shooter’s role on the No. 1 unit. Looking much like his fellow Czech parked in the left circle, he stepped into a sublime Patrice Bergeron feed across the slot and hammered in the 1-1 equalizer late in the first.
“We know Krech can shoot it from over there,” said Cassidy. “He’s also going to make a few more passes from there, so you might see a little different look than a lot of shots.
“But that was the appropriate play. Bergy did a nice job. He’s done that with Pasta a lot, where he kind of freezes everybody and hits the seam [with the pass].
“I don’t want to say there’s not going to be a dropoff because I don’t know what’s going to happen. But Krech is an experienced guy in this league and has run lots of power plays, and that’s his spot.
“The reason he is not on the first unit probably comes down to that, that he and Pasta are in the same spot and eventually it would look silly if they were standing beside each other on the power play.”
Cassidy presented that image in jest. Just as there is only one puck, only one player can shoot it at any given moment. For the time being, it just means Pastrnak won’t be the chosen shooter on duty.
The Bruins, with 32 wins, have 25 games remaining in the regular season, and will face 17 different opponents. Only four have more wins: Tampa Bay (42), Winnipeg (36), San Jose (34), and the Islanders (33). The other 13 teams average 25.4 wins.
It should be easy from here, even without Pastrnak. Come playoff time, like every year, a whole different story.