How might David Pastrnak's absence or slow start effect the Bruin's restart
With team leading-scoring David Pastrnak and deadline-deal middle six forward Ondrej Kase still “unfit to play”, there are certainly concerns for the Bruins going into the round robin seeding round. This is not to mention other key B’s who have been banged up including Tuukka Rask, Charlie McAvoy, and Nick Ritchie. The seeding round is a blessing for the Bruins given these ailments and acts of abundance of caution.
Pastrnak and Kase are being kept away from the team due to possible exposure to an individual diagnosed with COVID-19, not a hangover as one teammate suspected.
Joe Haggerty over at NBC Sports Boston talks about the importance of these playoffs for Pastrnak. Neither player practiced in the week prior to the Bruins' departure to the bubble. Neely seemed to share some frustration with the two forwards late return to Boston from their offseason homes and how it has complicated this issue. Neely and Head Coach Bruce Cassidy have suggested both players should be back by game time.
The absence of key players though is always concerning. Especially one as relied-upon as Pastrnak, who plays the flank on one of the league's best lines and power plays. In this article we specifically look at the B’s top scorer's impact on the team, his linemates, and the power play. The deep dive should illustrate how a rusty or slow start by Pasta in Phase 4 of the NHL’s return to play could hinder the the Bruins' chances in the round robin and perhaps beyond.
Pasta, as he is affectionately known, is undoubtedly a top player in the league. Before the pause, the explosive winger was 3rd in league scoring with 48 goals and 47 assists. He is 5th in points per game with an impressive 1.36. Pastrnak concludes the not-so-regular season tied with Alex Ovechkin for the league lead in goals and will share the Rocket Richard trophy with the Caps' superstar.
Ovechkin is good comparable for Pastrnak since, despite being different players, are likely two of the three best snipers on the power play in the world right now, along with Steven Stamkos. On the power play, Pastrnak’s 38 points also make him 3rd in the league.
His 3rd place in total points and power play points only trail the dynamic duo in Edmonton of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, who alternate turns as Batman and Robin. However, Pastrnak plays on a line that also has a strong defensive conscience with strong goals-for percentages and possession numbers, something occasionally lacking in the Oiler’s stars' stat lines and team results.
Pastrnak is a young and energetic star. He beats you on the counterattack with his skill, smarts, and quick decisions, as opposed to blinding speed (though he isn't slow by any means). He can maintain possession in the offensive zone and find the soft spots of the ice to receive passes, methodically creating high-danger opportunities. But perhaps the signatures of his game are his lightning quick release and lethal shot illustrated by his 17.2% shooting percentage before the season’s pause - 25th overall for players who played more than 30 games.
At Even Strength
Pastrnak is undoubtedly a driver of offense on the Bruins. He outpaced linemate and next-closest Bruin Brad Marchand by 12 points this season, and other linemate Patrice Bergeron by a whopping 39 points. The trio is responsible for 107 of the Bruins 227 goals, 47% of the Bruins' output. From a possession standpoint, Pastrnak’s Corsi is 6.3% better than his average teammate, a massive difference by NHL standards.
We can also look at rate states to see the differences with Pastrnak on the ice. Rate states measure numbers over 60 minutes, therefore removing issues of variation in ice time allotment or players missing games. Let’s compare the top line while together on the ice versus the rest of the team.
The table validates that the top line substantially outproduces their teammates across the board. What’s impressive is that they do not sacrifice defense in generating so much offense. This is a key point related not only to their talent but their style of play which favors responsible defense, quick transition up-ice, possession-driven shifts, and of course a dose of special skill. The high PDO (save percentage + shooting percentage; 1.00 is the average) is likely sustainable with this group given their high skill level and defensive acumen.
So what does a missing or subpar Pastrnak mean for the Bruin’s top line that is individually responsible for almost half the team’s goals and are on the ice for more than 65% of them? Well, there is not a ton of sample size. In the 61 games all three played, the trio spent 636 minutes together and only spent 41 minutes apart at even strength. But it’s worth taking a quick look under the hood just for fun.
The numbers in the table above are a testament to how good Bergeron and Marchand are, although they are clearly better off with their usual running mate. With actual goals and expected goals down without Pastrnak, it’s obvious he contributes greatly to the offense. And while goals-scored versus goals-scored-against are what dictates the winner, the possession numbers are noteworthy. The Bruins top line is so impressive because they can play both quick and heavy. In terms of quickness they can push the puck up ice or counterattack with speed and decisiveness. They can maintain possession in the offensive zone, waiting for the right moment to get the puck to a dangerous spot. In fact, the current state of public possession metrics may understate their ability to tilt the ice and make teams chase and defend them. As we will see in the video breakdown later this likely has lots to do with how the three mesh their skills together and play stylistically as a unit.
Pastrnak’s skills no doubt contribute to the quick attacks in transition. He can switch gears and vary speed to create space. He has great hands to create for himself while attacking defenders 1v1. He can find his teammates. He is also an expert at finding space away from the puck where his teammates can find him through passing lanes. His ability to receive passes and release on-the-move are perhaps most responsible for his conversion rate on the rush.
When the line has sustained zone time, Pasta can contribute to the cycle play and protect the puck. He can also break down opposing players when given a little space. However, his ability to find open space as Bergeron and Marchand work down low is the key ingredient he contributes to the Perfection Line's sandwich. As Fluto Shinzawa in The Athletic noted, this has been an early camp challenge of players filling in on the top line as they struggle to sustain in-zone play during camp. And of course, they obviously lack the scoring touch of the co-Rocket Richard winner.
On the Power Play
The power play is a key area of success for the Bruins. Before the pause they were clicking at 25% efficiency. In a league where 1 goal matters so much, the ability to count on scoring 1 out of every 4 times, amounts to that extra goal a game. It is no secret Pastrnak is absolutely key to that success as we saw earlier with his PP points totals.
An analysis of Pasta’s shot chart and the B’s heat map with and without him on the powerplay paints a very telling picture.
As is evident in the shot chart, Pastrnak thrives on the left side of the formation and can get to the net on occasion as well. It is only a matter of time until Pastrnak inherits the office currently being occupied by Ovechkin (though you never know with Ovechkin how long that could be). The Bruins lack another sniper who can let it rip like Pastrnak from that location. But it’s not just his ability to shoot from that spot that contributes to the B’s PP prowess. As is noted in the heat maps with and without the winger, the B’s also have a higher output of shots from the middle and down low when he is on the ice. Opposing penalty killers need to be cognizant of Pastrnak and that creates more space for Bergeron in the bumper role in the center of the ice and for Marchand to operate and get loose down low. Pastrnak is also a capable puck mover who can find other options when his lane is taken away.
David Krejci is really the only other Bruin who can facilitate the puck movement in the same way and has been Pasta's replacement in camp thus far. So how would that swap work?
Krejci is a much more selective (83 shots to Pastrnak's 279) and less lethal shooter (15.7% shooting percentage to Pastrnak's 17.2%). Furthering this point, Krejci produces about half the expected goals on the power play as well. (1.10 individual expected goals (ixG) to Pastrnak’s 2.25 ixG). Krejci is a great facilitator - that has been the strength of his game throughout most of his career - but that is especially key as he gets to his mid 30s and his shots per game average decreases. Opposing teams know that is what the Bruins second-line center does - he distributes. Knowledge of that tendency can allow their penalty killers to shade towards other threats.
Let’s break down each of Pastrnak’s 3 goals in his hat trick versus the rival Blanc, Blue, et Rouge, which will showcase many of themes we have discussed.
https://youtu.be/GrvwTWjk2Hs (link if video doesn't load)
Goal 1 – Pastrnak does well to hunt down the puck and keep the sequence going early on. He then stealthily finds himself some open space. Recognizing where Coyle has the puck at the far point, and assessing the Canadians setup, he positions himself where Coyle can thread the puck through (even though thats lower than his usual spot). As soon as the puck arrives, it’s on the net before the Montreal penalty killers or goaltenders can even locate him.
Goal 2 (starts at 0:55) – This is an example of how quickly the Bruins can transition and attack. After a regroup, the puck moves up ice quickly to Marchand who bumps the puck to the player coming wide with speed, Pastrnak. A sublime display of the Czech's skills, Pasta changes speed just enough to throw off veteran and former Norris Trophy candidate Weber. Then with just a stutter and little space he releases the puck before the goalkeeper can adjust and square to 88s cut to the middle.
Goal 3 (starts at 1:36) – An example of the Perfection Line's responsibility and ability to maintain possession in the zone, strong forechecking negates a lost faceoff. Pastrnak, sensing the turnover, finds a soft spot behind the Montreal defenders who followed the play up the ice. This is the kind of goal scoring sense that some players are just born with. With an impressive set of mitts, Pasta coolly deflects the puck out of the air and earns himself the hat trick.
All 48 Goals
https://youtu.be/p05s7DRwvwk (link if video doesn't load)
Just one more video in case you want to marvel at Pastrnak’s prowess throughout the season. Themes permeate throughout - especially his ability to find a spot, quickly catch and release, and pick corners. Definitely worth a watch and mandatory viewing for young players who want to learn how to score goals.
There is no doubt Pasta brings high-end skill, energy, and scoring prowess to every game. Missing such a game breaking talent would be a significant blow. Not only are you losing offense but the top line’s ability to drive play and wear down other team’s top talent will also be lessened. While David Krejci, Jake Debrusk, and Charlie Coyle provide fairly reliable secondary scoring, the Bruins are paced and often pulled by their top line.
The power play will certainly suffer as Cassidy and company will have to figure how to reconfigure the setup to create chances. Replacing one of the top 3 players in the world in the shooting slot on the left side is likely not an option. In fact, Pastrnak’s absence and Cassidy and company's lack of ability to work through their special teams during this summer training camp may also hinder the team in the early going.
Also important to be considered is the rust factors potential impact on conditioning and injury risk. All players will be well-behind mid-season form coming out of this unprecedented pause but it might prove even tougher for Pastrnak after missing key time to get back up to speed. Injury will be a concern as HC Cassidy decides how to deploy Pasta and ease him back into the grind of gameplay when he eventually returns. Perhaps the measured approach limiting games and minutes seen often in soccer or even the NBA may be useful in ensuring Pastrnak can slowly get up to top form.
Pasta is a true difference maker. The Bruins and their fan base can only hope that the repercussions from their elite winger's delayed start to a delayed postseason are managed well and prove minimal. Hopefully Pasta is using his time in isolation well to stay fit and he will be allowed to join the team on the ice shortly.
Hopefully he also continues to work on his acting chops and brings us more gems like this one!
https://youtu.be/DHtapgcS2FY /(link if video doesn't open)