David Pastrnak injured his thumb nearly one month ago, yet the Boston Bruins haven’t lost a beat without their leading goal scorer.
The Bruins are 8-0-1 in Pastrnak’s absence. They’re finding different ways to win — from tight, low-scoring contests to track meets and everywhere in between — without their talented playmaker. But Pastrnak’s impending return will make them that much better.
The Czech held a stick for the first time prior to Boston’s optional skate at Warrior Ice Arena Tuesday. Shooting and stickhandling drills will likely come during his next skate with team trainer Kim Branvold. His return to practice with teammates is around the corner, but an exact date hasn’t been determined yet.
#NHLBruins practice lines:
Marchand – Bergeron – Heinen
DeBrusk – Krejci – Cehlarik
Nordstrom – Coyle – Backes
Kuraly – Acciari – Wagner
Chara – McAvoy
Krug – Carlo
Moore – Grzelcyk
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) March 6, 2019
Pastrnak’s progress gives Bruce Cassidy and company much to look forward to. Yet, the third-year Bruins coach knows that some tough lineup decisions await once Pastrnak gets the green light for game action.
Cassidy alluded to this during his Toucher and Rich appearance on 98.5 The Sports Hub Tuesday morning. He followed up with a few answers with the assembled Boston media during his pregame press conference several hours before the Bruins’ tilt with the resurgent Carolina Hurricanes that same evening.
“We’re in a good stretch, but that doesn’t mean it can’t go the other way,” Cassidy said. “We have to work hard to get our goals and to feel that we’re consistently a threat to get a good number of goals, but we need to stick with it and make sure we don’t get away from it. Some of it has to do with Jake [DeBrusk] getting hot and hopefully we get a few other guys going and we’ll go from there.
“You know, Pasta [Pastrnak] should add offense. He’s done it consistently in the league. He did it last year in the playoffs. So you know, when he comes back we hope he finds it quickly, but again that’s not an automatic either.”
Pastrnak was on pace to post career highs before sustaining his broken thumb following a team event in mid-February. He still may surpass his career-best 35 goals he set last season once he returns.
An adjustment period awaits when the 2014 first rounder returns. Yet, Cassidy doesn’t necessarily have to put Pastrnak back on the top line again. That’s not an omen for Pastrnak, but rather a luxury the Bruins coaching staff has with the likes of DeBrusk, Danton Heinen, David Krejci and countless others finding their groove again during the team’s 17-game point streak.
DeBrusk leads the charge on the Pastrnak-less Bruins with eight goals in his last 10 games. Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand haven’t missed a beat with Heinen replacing Pastrnak either. The trio have accounted for 10 of Boston’s 35 goals during this stretch.
So with Heinen regaining confidence, does Cassidy keep the former University of Denver product with the potent Marchand/Bergeron duo? Or will he reunite Pastrnak and reform one of the top lines in the National Hockey League?
Here’s a look at some of the potential lineup options upon Pastrnak’s return.
Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-Danton Heinen
Jake DeBrusk-David Krejci-David Pastrnak
Marcus Johansson-Charlie Coyle-David Backes/Joakim Nordstrom
Sean Kuraly-Noel Acciari-Chris Wagner
Pastrnak and DeBrusk never had much of a chance to skate together in even-strength situations. Both have experience skating with David Krejci, however. This situation keeps Heinen on the top line with Bergeron and Marchand and provides a different looking second line with two crafty Czech playmakers and a solid net driving pivot in DeBrusk.
Marcus Johansson and Charlie Coyle were both brought in as trade deadline upgrades for the middle of the lineup. Cassidy used the duo for a shift during Saturday’s 1-0 victory over the lowly New Jersey Devils. We’ll reunite them here to skate with David Backes or Joakim Nordstrom. With Backes, Johansson moves to left wing, but he’d move back to the right side if Cassidy opted for Nordstrom instead.
But Johansson will miss at least a week after colliding with Michal Ferland during a shoulder-to-shoulder collision in the first period of Boston’s exciting 4-3 overtime win over the Hurricanes on Tuesday. Peter Cehlarik would take his place on the third line if that’s the case. We keep Johansson in this lineup to showcase Cassidy’s ideal lineup come playoff time.
No need to tinker with the fourth line. They’re one of the best bottom-six units in the league. Why bother?
A simple switch with Pastrnak and Heinen provides a little more tinkering here. The third and fourth lines stay the same in this scenario.
Perhaps Cassidy keeps a healthy Johansson with DeBrusk and Krejci, too. The veteran doesn’t look out of place at all in his new home and keeping that intact might not be a bad thing.
Here’s the tricky part: this moves Heinen back to the third line, a place that brought minimal success for the third-year forward this season. But Coyle provides an upgrade at center over the likes of Trent Frederic and Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, as neither young center took advantage of their opportunity earlier this season.
Heinen and Backes had decent chemistry last season in third-line minutes with Riley Nash as well. The former Blues captain desperately needs a confidence boost and a reunion with Heinen could help.
Cassidy has a few viable options here. Finding the right line combinations will be a challenge, however.