Pas­tr­nak the Un­pre­dictable: Bru­ins winger is dom­i­nat­ing NHL

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - SPORTS - By Stephen Whyno

David Pas­tr­nak on the ice these days is like a daz­zling young ma­gi­cian who isn’t quite sure how his sleight of hand is go­ing to work out.

When he has the puck, his Bos­ton Bru­ins team­mates don’t know what to ex­pect. Op­po­nents don’t know. He doesn’t even know.

“If you don’t know what you’ll do, then they’re not go­ing to know what to do,” Pas­tr­nak said.

Un­pre­dictabil­ity is at the core of Pas­tr­nak’s bril­liance. His blend of cre­ativ­ity and skill is the rea­son the player nick­named “Pasta” leads the NHL with 26 goals.

The 23-year-old winger from the Czech Repub­lic has been bet­ter than a point-a-game player be­fore and helped Bos­ton reach the Stan­ley Cup Fi­nal last year, but this sea­son has put him in the dis­cus­sion as one of the best goalscor­ers in the world.

“He’s played great hockey this year,” said Alex Ovechkin, the Cap­i­tals star who has led the league in goals eight times and may now be pass­ing the torch to Pas­tr­nak. “He’s a great shooter, a great skater and he’s on the next level this year.”

Pas­tr­nak is on pace to shat­ter his ca­reer high in goals and points. He cred­its that to chem­istry with line­mates Pa­trice Bergeron and Brad Marc­hand and more of a “shoot first, ask ques­tions later” men­tal­ity that has per­haps taken op­pos­ing de­fenses and goal­tenders by sur­prise.

“I’ve been play­ing with these

two guys so long that I know where they’re at and I know where to find them and they know where to go,” Pas­tr­nak said. “I’ve been shoot­ing the puck a lit­tle more. I think when there is a shot, I take it. It used to be times when I would still look for pass. Now, I think I dis­cover bet­ter that if I’m in a good spot, then I should shoot.”

Pas­tr­nak is av­er­ag­ing al­most four shots a game, but aside from the face­off cir­cle on the power play where he can one-time the puck, few know when he’s go­ing to put the puck on net. He has even tried a drop pass on a break­away this sea­son.

Good luck to anyone try­ing to an­tic­i­pate his next move.

“Even his own team­mates don’t know what to ex­pect from him,” said Washington de­fense­man Radko Gu­das,

who has played with Pas­tr­nak on the Czech na­tional team. “I think that’s the hard­est part is the read­ing of him, but for a de­fense­man, you’re stay­ing on the de­fen­sive side, there’s only so much you can do. I guess you try to not get dan­gled by him.”

Team­mates only have to worry about that in prac­tice. In games, they ben­e­fit from Pas­tr­nak’s magic acts.

Much like skat­ing with a dis­tribut­ing cen­ter like Con­nor McDavid or Sid­ney Crosby, it’s not easy play­ing with some­one who is abruptly cre­ative, but his line­mates are fi­nally get­ting the trick.

“I just try to stay pre­dictable for him,” Marc­hand said. “I tend to go to the same spots or put the puck in the same ar­eas. So when he’s be­ing un­pre­dictable he at least knows what I’m go­ing to do and then I kind of just let him do his thing and try to find space where he isn’t.”

Marc­hand added: “He could do 100 dif­fer­ent things in a game, so it’s tough to de­fend that.”

How about coach­ing it? Bruce Cassidy isn’t wor­ried about Bos­ton’s top goalscorer go­ing off script — he ex­pects it — and fig­ures Bergeron and Marc­hand would put Pas­tr­nak back in line, if needed.

The Bru­ins coach un­der­stands his top line’s dy­namic al­lows for Pas­tr­nak and Marc­hand to be more of­fen­sively driven be­cause Bergeron does so much all over the ice.

“With the puck, he’s earned the right to play his game,” Cassidy said of Pas­tr­nak. “The things we work with David on is play­ing through frus­tra­tion, if teams are start­ing to play you harder. We’ve talked to him about how he can still help the team. We talk about his play away from the puck be­cause he’s on the ice 18, 20 min­utes a night, so that’s im­por­tant.”

Op­po­nents can sense con­fi­dence ooz­ing from Pas­tr­nak and see that as the rea­son for his break­out sea­son. Pas­tr­nak him­self is soft-spo­ken and just try­ing to enjoy him­self and score some goals.

“That’s what it’s about, to have fun, and I think that’s when you play your best hockey,” he said. “I’m just try­ing to make plays that I see.”

More of­ten than not, they’re plays no one else can see.

MICHAEL DWYER - THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Bos­ton Bru­ins’ David Kre­jci (46) cel­e­brates his win­ning goal with David Pas­tr­nak (88) and Char­lie McAvoy (73) in over­time dur­ing an NHL hockey game against the New York Rangers in Bos­ton, Fri­day, Nov. 29, 2019.

MICHAEL DWYER - THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Bos­ton Bru­ins’ David Pas­tr­nak (88) tries to de­flect a shot past Colorado Avalanche goalie Pavel Fran­couz, be­hind, as Ian Cole (28) de­fends dur­ing the third pe­riod of an NHL hockey game in Bos­ton, Satur­day, Dec. 7, 2019.

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