CHICAGO — Bruce Cassidy officially completed his third full year (Game No. 246 on his Boston resume) behind the Bruins bench here Wednesday night, after taking over for Claude Julien on Super Bowl Parade Day in 2017.
Cassidy, rewarded with a multi-year contract extension prior to this season, improved his points percentage to .678 (149-62-34) with a 4-0 win over Vancouver the night before at TD Garden.
“I thought we had better pace in our game, and it wasn’t coming out on the ice,” said Cassidy, recalling how he felt when he took over the club in Feb. 2017. “So we decided to implement some of that. We thought it was there. We thought we could get our team more involved and be a little more attack-oriented.”
The Bruins went 18-8-1 in Cassidy’s first 27 games, clinched a playoff spot, and are now on course for a third 100-point season under his tutelage. They carried a 32-10-12 mark into the game here, with a total 76 points and 28 games remaining on the regular-season schedule.
Cassidy made a point of saying Boston’s defensive identity, established long before his arrival, also has been criticial to the ongoing success.
“A lot of that was Z [Zdeno Chara], Tuukka [Rask], Bergy [Patrice Bergeron], [David] Krecji . . . and those guys take a lot of pride in it,” he said.
The uptick on the offense (including a much-improved power play), added to existing defensive integrity, has continued to pay off.
“I think we are playing more now to our expectations,” he said, “which is to compete for first place in the division. Then, once the playoffs come, everyone starts over and you hope you can make it. Last year, we got all the way to Game 7 [of the Stanley Cup Final] — a good thing for the organization. We didn’t win, and that was disappointing. But I think at the end of the day we want to get there again this year.”
Cassidy’s Boston win percentage prior to last night: .608 (149/245).
The Bruins also have gone 22-20 in the playoffs, including the Game 7 loss to the St. Louis Blues in last year’s Cup Final, with Cassidy behind the bench.
Closing in on completing three full seasons behind the Montreal bench, Julien has gone 114-110-29 in his second tour as Habs boss.
After moving to the front of the NHL goal-scoring pack with 11 strikes in his first 10 games this season, David Pastrnak arrived here in second place for the first time in months.
Washington’s tour de force Alex Ovechkin clicked for a natural hat trick Tuesday night in the Capitals’ 4-2 win over the Kings. It boosted Ovie to 40 goals this season, two more than Pastrnak (38) and three more than Toronto’s Auston Matthews (37).
Clubs increasingly have defended against Pastrnak’s patented one-timers, usually launched from the left wing circle, on the power play.
“That doesn’t frustrate me,”said Pastrnak, reflecting on the extra coverage. “What frustrates me is if I get the shot, and don’t score or I miss the net.”
Pastrnak, 23, is 11 years younger than Ovechkin and he didn’t get to see the Russian scoring machine play in the NHL until the Czech winger joined the Bruins in 2014-15 season.
“I never watched the NHL much growing up because of the time difference,” recalled Pastrnak. “But I saw him when he played for Russian national teams. He’s been in the league a long time, so I am definitely not competing with him. Even now, with me as an NHL player, he is someone I can look up to.”
His hat trick Tuesday night left Ovechkin with a career total 698 goals, ranking him eighth overall in NHL history. Next on the power list: ex-Caps forward Mike Gartner at 708.
Pastrnak entered Wednesday night’s action with 170 career goals in 374 games, a rate of .455 goals per game compared to Ovechkin’s astounding .614 rate, which is higher than any of the seven players ahead of him on the NHL career goal scoring list.
Wayne Gretzky, No. 1 with 894 career goals, delivered at a .601 rate. No. 4, Brett Hull, with 741 goals, is next highest at .584.
Pastrnak’s .455 is just slightly better than the scoring rate of No. 2 Gordie Howe (801 goals/.453) and No. 3. Jaromir Jagr (766 goals/.442). Both Howe and Jagr had their rate lowered, in part, because they continued to play for years past their prime scoring seasons.
Jaroslav Halak, who sat and watched Tuukka Rask’s third shutout of the season, was in the Boston net. Halak, 13-6-6, breezed to a 6-1 win Saturday night in St. Paul. Rask improved to 19-4-6 . . . The game here completed Boston’s second back-to-back matchups since returning from their bye break only last Friday night. By Sunday evening, they will have logged three consecutive back-to-backs (Jets-Wild; Canucks-Hawks; Coyotes-Red Wings) over the course of 10 days . . . In their three games back (all wins) since the break prior to stopping here, the Bruins trailed on the scoreboard for only the 13:01 it took them to catch up to the Jets scoring first in Winnipeg. Otherwise, they owned the scoreboard with a cumulative lead time advantage of 110:01 to zero . . . Struggling on the power play (0-for-15 across four games) prior to the break, the Bruins scored at least once on the advantage over their three wins against the Jets, Wild and Canucks. They were 6-for-14, .429 headed into the matchup here with the Hawks . . . The Bruins topped the NHL in power-play goals (48), with a success rate (26.8 percent) second only to the Oilers (28.9). The Oilers had potted 46 with the advantage . . . Out of the playoff picture for the first half, the Hawks were 6-3-1 in their previous 10. With 57 points for the season, the sons of Bob Pulford were within three points of filching a wildcard spot . . . Patrick Kane again led the Hawks scoring (25-40—65) and reached the 25-goal plateau for a seventh straight season. Brad Marchand (23-46—69) is on the verge of reaching 25 for a fifth year in a row . . . Cassidy said Connor Clifton, sidelined since Dec. 31, likely will resume skating with the club at Friday’s practice in Brighton. Probably not realistic for him to play as early as the weekend, but a return to action in 7-10 days would be a reasonable timeline.