David Pastrnak has always looked like a star against the Toronto Maple Leafs. He has scored 19 points in 15 regular season games played against the Leafs in his career. In the Bruins-Leafs first-round playoff series last season, Pastrnak led the Bruins in points scored with 13.
Three games into this year’s edition of Bruins-Leafs, though, the 22-year-old right wing has only one assist to show for his efforts. He’s been one of the most physically punished Bruins to skate through three games; according to Natural Stat Trick, only defensemen Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo have received more hits than Pastrnak.
Here is what reporters and pundits across Boston’s media scene are saying about Pastrnak’s performance as the Bruins face a pivotal Game 4 in Toronto:
Ty Anderson, 98.5 The Sports Hub: “In a Game 3 loss, the B’s may have finally found the one thing they’re not built to survive: An ineffective David Pastrnak.”
Anderson pointed out Tuesday that Pastrnak has 10 shots on goal through the first three games of the series. How often did this happen during the regular season? Pastrnak went three games with 10 shots on goal but no goals scored six separate times this season. The Bruins were 6-7-1 over those stretches. The 22-year-old winger had only six assists in those 14 games. The Bruins averaged 2.07 goals in those games.
Bruins aren’t winning this series unless David Pastrnak’s game returns. Take out the beauty of a pass on Marchand’s G2 goal and this has been a big zero from him. He’s too good/ Bruins are too strapped on wings/Leafs are too capable for B’s to win without his game showing up.
— Ty Anderson (@_TyAnderson) April 16, 2019
Anderson conceded that the Bruins’ top line of Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron, and Brad Marchand does not have an easy task going up against the Leafs’ John Tavares and Mitch Marner in this series. But the Leafs are winning the shots battle (20-17) and scoring battle (1-0) against Bergeron’s line. According to Anderson, that did not happen to the Bruins’ top line this season against any opponent they registered 20 minutes or more against at five-on-five. They’re also hammering Pastrnak physically in particular, and whether it’s a direct result or not, Pastrnak is not scoring.
“Pastrnak also — like many other Boston shooters — appears to be looking for that one extra pass for an empty cage against Andersen (a goaltender who allowed the second-most goals in all of hockey from March through Game 82),” wrote Anderson. “Perhaps no (absolutely maddening) sequence spoke to this worse than Pastrnak deferring to Krejci, positioned on the outside and not exactly in a prime shooting position as a right shot along the right wall, with five seconds left in the third period in Game 3.”
— Hockey Night in Canada (@hockeynight) April 16, 2019
Fluto Shinzawa, The Athletic: “The most likely switch Cassidy will make is dropping Pastrnak down to Charlie Coyle’s right flank and giving Danton Heinen a first-line ride.”
Shinzawa’s postgame coverage Monday centered around the top line’s poor play as a whole and zeroed in on individual matchups the Bergeron line has faced thus far in the first round. According to Shinzawa, it seemed Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock was sure to put his best defensemen, Jake Muzzin and Nikita Zaitsev, on the ice each time Pastrnak stepped out. The last change appeared to benefit the Leafs, and Pastrnak bore body checks from Muzzin and Zach Hyman all night.
— Maple Leafs Hotstove (@LeafsNews) April 15, 2019
Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy addressed whether or not he’d consider breaking up the top line in an attempt to change the Leafs’ matchup plan.
“If we feel if it’s really an impediment of us having success, then we’re going to get away from it and break up the line,” Cassidy said postgame Monday. “We do it at times. We move Pasta around. But at the end of the day, if that’s the matchup (Babcock) wants, he’s going to get it. … Even on the road, you can get it at certain points. We tried to get away from it on some icings to see if it would work our way. But tonight, it wasn’t able to go. We’ll see how it plays out Wednesday. Honestly, I don’t mind it. It’s two good lines going head to head every night. It’s going to tilt our way at some point. Our players are too good.”
If Cassidy does make a change, Shinzawa wrote Wednesday morning, Pastrnak could make a mid-Game 4 appearance on the third line, with Danton Heinen moving to Bergeron’s right wing. It’s something the Bruins tinkered with in Game 3; Heinen, Charlie Coyle, and Pastrnak played just over two minutes together, according to Natural Stat Trick.
“It would then force Mike Babcock to make a decision: keep his first line and Muzzin-Zaitsev against Marchand and Bergeron, or bust up the five-man unit to slow down Coyle, Pastrnak and, most likely, Marcus Johansson.”
The Bruins’ third line generated the most success for the team in Game 3. They played largely against the Patrick Marleau, William Nylander, and Connor Brown line, while commonly facing Morgan Rielly, Ron Hainsey, and Jake Gardiner on defense.
“If Pastrnak takes shifts against such opposition, the matchup is in the Bruins’ favor.”
Felger & Mazz, 98.5 The Sports Hub: “What you can do is take Pastrnak away from Bergeron, give him to David Krejci.”
Mike Felger and Tony Massarotti recognize that Pastrnak is bearing a physical toll in this series.
“I’ve mentioned this,” Felger said during Tuesday’s Felger & Mazz show. “In Game 1, and it was obvious, Zaitsev and Muzzin were out there for Bergeron and specifically for Pastrnak.”
The easiest solution, according to Felger? Split the Bruins’ top line up. Move Pastrnak to David Krejci’s right wing. The Leafs own better control of matchups on home ice, so make Mike Babcock make a decision.
“That says to Mike Babcock, ‘I’m using Muzzin to beat the bag out of Pastrnak. Do I keep chasing Muzzin out there against the Krejci line now, because Pastrnak’s on it, and does that free up Bergeron, or do I keep that first D pair and Tavares on Bergeron?'” Felger said. “Because that’s really the key to it.”
Felger and Massarotti noted that placing Pastrnak on David Krejci’s right wing could give the Bruins a more favorable matchup against Auston Matthews, who centers the Leafs’ second line, and the Leafs’ second defensive pair. They disagreed with Bruce Cassidy’s assessment that the Bruins’ first line will ultimately tilt games in their favor over the Leafs.
“I think the strategy going in was sound, which is ‘they couldn’t handle us last year, they couldn’t handle the group last year so until they show they can handle it we’re going to go back to it,'” Massarotti said. “Fine. I totally get that. But they’ve been able to handle it. So now you have to adjust.”