Offensively, the Boston Bruins are already showing better than they did in all of 2014-15. Through six games, the Bruins have scored 22 goals and are producing at a rate well above that of last season. But not everything is going well in Beantown.
Heading into the season, youngster David Pastrnak was supposed to be among the Bruins top scorers, he was supposed to take on a top-six role and become part of a changing Boston offense. He led all Bruins scorers in the back half of 2014-15 with 26 points and was one of the biggest bright spots on a Boston team that fell three points short of the post-season and missed out on playing into late April for the first time in eight seasons.
While the Bruins’ offense has certainly changed, Pastrnak has been underwhelming through six games. That’s not to say he’s been bad, but rather that he hasn’t made the impact many were hoping to see from the sophomore. Granted, he is just 19, but after Game 6 of the Boston season, it’s apparent that Pastrnak hasn’t played to coach Claude Julien’s expectations so far this season.
Take Julien’s comments following Wednesday’s disappointing 5-4 overtime loss to the Philadelphia Flyers — a game in which the Bruins watched a 4-2 lead slip away in the third period. Julien was well aware of Pastrnak’s miscues, one of which led to the Flyers second goal and another weak dump-in which led to Wayne Simmonds’ game-tying goal.
“It’s about respecting the game, more than just scoring goals, and there’s a learning curve there,” Julien said post-game, via the Boston Herald. “There’s also a respect factor there that, you’ve got to understand that there’s more to the game than just trying to be flashy. (Pastrnak) had a tough night. You’re going to see him get some better nights down the road, but he’s certainly not a single guy to point out.”
In his first six games, Pastrnak has been able to register three points, but he hasn’t found the score sheet since the second game of the season. Pastrnak has also seen his ice time take a serious hit since Game 2, as well. After skating close to 17 minutes against Tampa Bay on Oct. 12, Pastrnak has since seen his ice time dwindle by nearly three minutes to 14:16 Wednesday against the Flyers. It’s not surprising, either, that following Simmonds’ goal Wednesday, Pastrnak only saw the ice twice for a total of 1:33 over the last nearly 10 minutes of the contest. In overtime, he saw a mere 18 seconds on ice.
One major difficulty for the Bruins which effects Pastrnak is their lack of strength on defense. At present, the Bruins blue line is trotting out Zdeno Chara, Torey Krug, Kevan Miller, Adam McQuaid, Colin Miller and Tommy Cross. For a creative player like Pastrnak, his style of offense can often end up turning into turnovers and attempts for the opposition. In Wednesday’s game, both of Pastrnak’s turnovers came on clearing attempts and when the puck goes the other way against the Bruins largely inexperienced D-corps it can prove costly.
The Bruins aren’t going to shake up their lines quite yet, especially with how well they’re attacking, but once Julien feels the need to shake things up, it would be interesting to see how Pastrnak might fare alongside Patrice Bergeron. Giving Pastrnak a defensive-minded pivot such as Bergeron could give him the insulation he needs to use his creativity.
Pastrnak has had the benefit of a good number of offensive-zone starts, taking more than 60 percent of his starts in the opposition end. That’s strong deployment, but the defensive pairing of McQuaid and Krug hasn’t been able to support the youngster when he makes mistakes.
Pastrnak’s raw ability to produce chances has been proven. At 5-on-5, Pastrnak has been on the ice for 33 scoring chances for, which is the fourth-most among all Bruins forwards. If those keep coming, it’s going to be just a matter of time before he starts finding the score sheet with regularity. His defense will struggle at times and he may turn the puck over, but if the Bruins can shelter Pastrnak through these growing pains, he can still be a huge factor on the offensive side of the puck.