Not even two weeks into the new NHL season, David Pastrnak already has six goals, the bulk of them banked Monday afternoon with the career-high four he potted in a win at the Garden over Anaheim.
Final score: Boston Pastrnaks 4, Anaheim Ducks 2.
The 23-year-old Czech right winger landed five shots on net, four of them behind goalie John Gibson, and when the final horn blew at 3:38 p.m, only 21 NHLers could boast more than the 138 goals over the last five-plus seasons, dating to when Pastrnak entered the league in the autumn of 2014.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” said Pastrnak when asked to contemplate the scope of his afternoon’s work. “I mean, you know, it’s always nice . . . that’s what I’m getting paid for.”
For $6.67 million a year, his average wage through 2022-23, Pastrnak increasingly grows into his role as chief scoring threat in residence on Causeway Street.
He is bigger (6 feet, 195 pounds), stronger, more confident (see: .800 shooting percentage Monday afternoon), and more and more in the right place.
There are many factors in becoming an elite scorer. Strength of shot. Sharp eye. Anticipation. Sometimes it’s the ability to hold on to the puck for just that fraction of a second before shooting. Often it’s just finding the spot and getting there, prepared to rip, a knack that Brett Hull turned into an art form in his Golden Brett days.
Two of Pastrnak’s goals against the Ducks were tap ins off pinpoint feeds by linemate Brad Marchand. The second of those delivered Pastrnak’s fourth goal, with 5:34 gone in the second, with the devilish Marchand selling a shot from the left side, then snapping his cross-crease feed to Pastrnak’s stickblade tucked near the right post.
It was the kind of play Pastrnak must have dreamed about while playing pond hockey back in Havirov, Czechia.
Indeed, Marchand made it so easy that an 8-year-old in knit cap and frozen mittens could have knocked it home, then trudged home through the snow, skates still on, a mug of steaming hot chocolate to celebrate the feat.
“Yeah, which one?” said Pastrnak, asked if the feed from Marchand made for easy pickin’s. “You mean the first tap-in, or the second tap-in?”
Nothing leads to more tap-ins like crediting the guy who made the feed. The assists were Nos. 4 and 5 this season for Marchand, who had 64 helpers last season.
“I think it’s just practice, some God-given ability, a bit of maturity,” said coach Bruce Cassidy, focusing on Pastrnak’s most feared trait, his steaming one-time slapper, which delivered his first goal of the day off a Patrice Bergeron feed. “And you know, strength.”
What’s to ponder here is Pastrnak’s upside.
Four-goal games are rare. Bergeron has one, which he posted Jan. 6, 2018 vs. the Canes. Prior to that, a Bruin hadn’t scored four times in the same game since Dave Andreychuk in 1999. Phil Esposito did it four times during his Big Bad Bruins days, but that was a different era, when goalies wore heavy horsehair pads and goals lit up the Boston night sky like so many bulbs stringed these days across the Zakim Bridge.
In NHL 2019-20, and even before Pastrnak arrived on Causeway Street, Alex Ovechkin is the game’s goal-scoring standard. Ovie has reached the 50-goal plateau eight times and began this week with 662 career goals. No one rips it like the feared Caps left winger.
“I definitely want to get to that point as a player,” said Pastrnak, asked if he felt he could one day rival Ovechkin’s best-in-league production. “I think I can. It just will take time. Like I said, I think I can do it. A guy like Ovie is a special player, has been on top for a long time, and he’s one of a kind.”
Since Pastrnak’s arrival here in 2014, Ovechkin has led all NHL scorers with 240 goals, followed by John Tavares (184), Vladimir Tarasenko (183) and Nikita Kucherov (182).
Of the 21 players to score more than Pastrnak’s 138, two are his linemates: No. 7 Marchand (174) and No. 21 Bergeron (139).
“Pasta is a great player,” said Bruins netminder Jaro Halak, asked if saw comparisons between Pastrnak and Ovechkin. “I have said it, he is playing with really great linemates. They can find him open . . . on that fourth goal March just found him in the crease. The ability for him to find that open spot, it’s an ability that not everyone has. Ovie finds the open spots, same thing with Pasta. Being in the right spot at the right time is what makes a goal scorer a goal scorer.”
Over the last four seasons, only Ovechkin, Nikita Kucherov, and Patrick Kane have scored more goals than Marchand (146). Eight years younger, and on Marchand’s opposite wing, Pastrnak is quick to point out that much of his success is due to the fit with his two linemates. Could he be the game’s next 50-goal scorer?
“Just move forward,” he said. “I want to get to that point that I have a shot to score 50 goals. But it is not my focus. I am focusing to be the best player I can be for this team, but 50 goals is not my No. 1 focus.”
Pastrnaks 4, Ducks. 2. The Bruins are 5-1-0 after six games, and their young right winger is delivering as paid.