Nobody really expected David Pastrnak to match his numbers from last season. It wouldn’t have been fair. His 61 goals were the most by a Bruin since Phil Esposito in 1974-75. His 113 points were the most since Adam Oates in 1992-93.
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Given all the turnover around him, including the retirements of David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron – the two centers he’s had the most success with in his career – some sort of decline in production would have been completely understandable.
Even his coach expected it.
“I thought that he would have a harder time producing without Bergy and obviously Krejci to work with,” Jim Montgomery acknowledged Wednesday.
Pastrnak has not had a harder time, though. Not only has he continued to light up the score sheet through 15 games this season, but he is actually doing so at a higher rate than last year. He has 11 goals and 13 assists for 24 points. That puts him on an 82-game pace of 60 goals and 71 assists for a ludicrous 131 points.
Pastrnak is tied for second in the NHL in points and tied for fifth in goals. He has more three-point games (4) than zero-point games (3) so far. He has a point on 48% of the Bruins’ goals (24 of 50), way above his 37.5% involvement on a deeper offensive team last year.
Montgomery knew even more of the offense was going to have to run through Pastrnak this season, and told him so at the end of last season. Pastrnak knew it, too, and welcomed the challenge.
“In my year-end meeting with him, I said, ‘There’s gonna be a lot more put on you next year.’ We figured they [Bergeron and Krejci] were moving on,” Montgomery said. “He just looked and said, ‘Yeah, I’m expecting it. Don’t worry about it.’ That’s what he said to me. And now I don’t worry about it.”
There doesn’t really seem to be anything fluky about Pastrnak’s hot start either. He’s actually taking slightly fewer shots per game than last year (4.60 vs. 4.96). His shooting percentage isn’t anything crazy (15.9% this year vs. 15.0% last year). Neither is the shooting percentage of the players he’s on the ice with (the Bruins are shooting 13.8% when Pastrnak is on the ice this year vs. 13.5% last year).
Pastrnak is actually scoring less at 5-on-5 so far (2.30 points per 60 minutes this year vs. 3.09 last year), but all that means is that there might actually be room for Pastrnak to score even more as the Bruins continue to build their 5-on-5 game and develop chemistry with completely new line combinations. Pastrnak’s current line with Pavel Zacha and Brad Marchand has shown promise and has the potential to be very good, but is certainly not a finished product yet.
The area where Pastrnak has perhaps made the biggest gains in terms of production has been on the power play, but not with his shot. He has scored power-play goals at a high rate for years, and sure enough he once again leads the team with three. But where he’s made a jump this year is in setting up his teammates on the man advantage.
Pastrnak already has seven power-play assists, including four in the last four games, which just so happens to coincide with the hottest stretch of the season for Boston’s man advantage. Pastrnak is already more than a third of the way to his career high of 19 power-play assists, set last year, and his 7.04 assists per 60 minutes on the power play are nearly double his setup rate last year (3.64).
When the Bruins’ power play has slumped in recent years, it has often been because they’ve gotten too stationary and developed tunnel vision for that patented Pastrnak one-timer. When Pastrnak is moving the puck and not forcing shots, and when his teammates are ready to fire when he sets them up, good things are going to happen, as they have been recently.
Expecting at least a small step back from Pastrnak this season was reasonable. Instead, he’s somehow finding a way to take his game to an even higher level.