It truly feels like the Boston Bruins have pushed the reset button since coming back to play in the New Year of 2022, and perhaps no player embodies that more right now than David Pastrnak. After going the entire month of December without a goal, the first time he’s gone an entire regular season month without a goal since April of his rookie year back in 2014-15, the B’s game-breaking right winger exploded for a third period game-winner in Boston’s 5-3 victory over the New Jersey Devils at TD Garden on Tuesday night.
It wasn’t for lack of trying as Pastrnak squeezed off 23 shots in the seven games he went goalless in December, and even amidst the 25-year-old’s struggles he’s still on pace for 25 goals and 62 points with his game on the upswing. But it all came back to basics for Pastrnak, who finished a hard-working shift by splitting the Devils defense with a drive from below the goal line and then roofed a follow-up to an initial shot stopped by Mackenzie Blackwood.
“Just getting to the rink and put the work in, work hard,” said Pastrnak, of busting out of a stretch where he’d managed just two assists in nine games during December and January. “Sometimes you’re going [to have to] work out there for every single bit of ice. And then the other times, it just keeps bouncing your way. It is what it is, that’s hockey.
“For me, it’s just trying to enjoy and have fun. As you guys know, when I play my best hockey, I’m happy and enjoy it on the ice. Sometimes it’s harder to do that, especially with the things that are happening. It’s just the world we live in right now.”
The world we live in right now got significantly brighter for Pastrnak around the holidays as his mom and his brother were able to stay with the happy-go-lucky winger over Christmas break for the first time in years due to COVID travel restrictions, and they were in attendance for Pasta’s offensive explosion on Tuesday night. It’s also been encouraging to see growing chemistry between Pastrnak and Taylor Hall on a reconfigured Boston Bruins second line where speed and second-effort exertion are quickly turning into offensive production for both players.
Certainly, there are times when it’s felt like Pastrnak is passing up shooting opportunities and teams have focused on shutting down his one-timer on PP possessions, so it’s been up to No. 88 to make the adjustment. He did just that by taking the puck straight to the net using speed and a little dangle, and that should be the precursor for a nice, healthy stretch of offensive burst from Pastrnak.
“Well, he’s a goal scorer so it probably weighs on him when he goes one – well not one, but two or three games, right?” said Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy. “You can see it with Marchy a little bit. A guy’s pressed because they’re good players. They want to get it done. They want to help the team.
“I don’t know if he’s pressed so much, Pasta, but sometimes they get away from their game and just focus on, ‘OK, how am I going to get that next one?’ Instead of just letting it come organically because they’re such good players that they’ll eventually find themselves in the right spot and get opportunities. [Going to the net] is something he needs to do a little bit more of when you’re not scoring. His willingness to get to the net without the puck has been good when it’s his turn, so to speak. I just don’t think he’s executed his shot as well as he’d like…but at the end of the day, if he continues to work hard and get his chances – he’s a good player that can score, and eventually, it’ll come. Tonight, hopefully, sort of gets the ball rolling for him.”
It sure looks like the newly configured forward lines are here to stay for a while, so Pastrnak, Hall and Erik Haula will be working on chemistry and creating something between the three of them. As far as that goes, Pastrnak said Tuesday night was the best of the three games together thus far even if eight total shot attempts for the line don’t scream out offensive juggernaut.
“I think tonight was definitely our best game out of those three,” said Pastrnak. “Talking about offensive zone time and some looks. We hung onto the pucks a little bit [more], we had some good forecheck takeaways in the O-Zone. And because of that, we spent a little bit more time in their zone, so that’s positive.
“Obviously, it’s a new line, with Hallsy [who] I played a little bit 4-on-4 last year, so it’s gonna take a little bit of time to get chemistry. But our focus is to talk to each other and be better every game. It’s going to take some time to find the chemistry, but I think we’re leaning in the right direction.”
It’s clear Pastrnak is leaning in the right direction with his overall game after battling through one of the more challenging months of his brilliant young NHL career, and the experience should make him even better for it in the end.
It’s an exciting proposition for the Black and Gold after the COVID/holiday break appears to have given a needed breather for Pastrnak and the rest of the Boston Bruins before they dive in for a busy, challenging remainder of the season.