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Haggs: Are We Really Talking About Benching Pastrnak on PP?



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Is there a clinical diagnosis for the kind of lunacy that’s involved with identifying the Boston Bruins player with 52 goals and 17 power play goals off the top power play unit? Would it be called Hot Take Syndrome or Talking Out of the Butt Disease?

Whatever the case, there was actually a segment on 98.5 the Sports Hub’s Felger and Mazz show where host Mike Felger was openly campaigning for David Pastrnak to be yanked off the top power play unit, and for him to be replaced by Tomas Nosek or Charlie Coyle.

That’s right, it’s so important to bench the electric 26-year-old right winger from the power play that the Bruins should put, all due respect, a fourth line center on there in Nosek that has scored nine goals in 134 games with the Black and Gold.

Pastrnak has 17 power play goals and 50 power play points this season and has become a go to guy on both power play units because of his offensive ability, which can mean an exhausting amount of ice for No. 88.

But to put it in perspective, Pastrnak barely cracks the top-20 in power play ice time among all players with guys like JT Miller and Sam Reinhart logging more PP ice time than him.

So it’s not a matter of No. 88 being pushed out there too much on the PP for the Boston Bruins even if he’s the lethal scoring weapon for both the first and second unit.

For context’s sake, I’m fairly certain Felger was talking about a temporary benching of Pastrnak to heal what ails a struggling Boston Bruins power play unit that struggled again with an 0-for-5 performance in Tuesday night’s 2-1 loss to the Nashville Predators at TD Garden. The Boston Bruins power play has been mired in an extended slump over the second half of the season and has dropped all the way to 15th in the NHL after being top-10 for the last few seasons.

“I don’t know, we’ve changed it up quite a bit in the last month,” said Boston Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery, when asked about changing up the power play. “Change isn’t always the answer, although it seems like the easiest answer. It’s players committing to doing the right thing. We didn’t have our A-game tonight.”

But it’s obvious throwing Nosek out there as a name to replace Pastrnak on the power play is meant to be outlandish enough to get attention, which is exactly the game that is being played on sports talk radio.

There’s also an underlying point that has some merit. Pastrnak leads the entire NHL with 100 giveaways in 74 games, a statistical category that is typically led by puck-moving defensemen like Brent Burns, Jeff Petry or Erik Karlsson. Instead it’s Pastrnak turning the puck over more than anybody else, which means he’s a great possession player in terms of always having the puck on his stick and creating offense for himself and everybody around him.

But it also means that Pastrnak is going to turn over pucks and sometimes do it in spots that are going to be damaging to the Boston Bruins. There are times he clearly makes mistakes on PP zone entries or doesn’t move the puck to the right spot at the right time, which is certainly part of what ails the Boston man advantage.

But it’s a double-edged sword with Pastrnak, who plays a higher risk, creative game that’s allowed him to score 52 goals this season behind only Connor McDavid across the entire National Hockey League. Pastrnak is also sixth in the NHL with 17 power play goals this season where so much of the Black and Gold’s man advantage revolves around his one-timer from the faceoff dot.

Removing Pastrnak from the top Boston Bruins power play unit would take the player most likely to shoot the puck off a unit where the other four players sometimes pass up open shots to the detriment of the group. Pastrnak leads the Boston Bruins by a wide, wide margin with over 300 shots on net this season, and frankly the last thing Boston should do is remove somebody from the power play that’s assertively trying to put the puck in the net.

Still, the Boston Bruins know there is a power play problem that needs to be addressed before the playoffs. The Bruins are 11-for-80 on the PP since the NHL All-Star break when it feels like teams made an adjustment on the man advantage, but some of it also pretty clearly comes down to a lack of work ethic and a willingness to outwork penalty kills with tenacious zone entries, won puck races and working for 50/50 pucks before setting up for offense.

“I think it is in guy’s heads. People are trying to be perfect,” said Montgomery. “We don’t get success right away, we’re not recovering pucks, that’s when you know that you’re not playing fast on the power play. We take a shot and we’re not on the rebound or wherever it goes.

“They cleared a lot of pucks after we took shots to the net. When you’re on top of your power play, you’re converging at the net, you’re coming up with those pucks.”

So what’s the answer? Perhaps some of it will be helped by a big, fast body like Taylor Hall returning to good health and regular power play duty, or an adjustment moving David Krejci’s intelligence and playmaking to the top power play unit could change things for the better. Certainly one of the areas that could be improved on Boston’s top power play unit is the point/power play quarterback spot where Charlie McAvoy, Hampus Lindholm and Dmitry Orlov have rotated in and out as that point man at the top of the PP formation.

The zone entries are the biggest stumbling block for the Boston Bruins where they can’t even get into a good setup in the offensive zone and that speaks to the player running the show up top.

One thing this humble hockey writer thinks is true, however, is that you don’t improve the Boston Bruins struggling power play by removing the biggest weapon to “shake things up” or change for the sake of change. That’s something that works perfectly if you’re filling up dead air from 2-6 pm five days a week, but doesn’t work so well if you’re actually trying to win honest-to-goodness hockey games against the best hockey players in the world.

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