Boston Bruins: Should Try Pastrnak, Spooner Speed Reunion


Oct 23, 2015; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Boston Bruins left wing David Pastrnak (88) controls the puck against New York Islanders defenseman Calvin de Haan (44) during the third period at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

As the Boston Bruins struggle with the league’s elite offensive powerhouses, it could serve them well to leverage some of the new-found young speed and skill on their roster to help push the offensive pace.

In the last couple games the B’s offense has become too predictable at times, showing they are not among the higher skilled teams overall in the league. Applying a little creativity to mix things up so they aren’t completely relying on a defensive-first system and lunch pail hockey could help navigate the swiftly moving currents of today’s dynamic and star-studded NHL.

Oct 23, 2015; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Boston Bruins center Ryan Spooner (51) controls the puck against the New York Islanders during the third period at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

One move they could try is putting wing David Pastrnak (once he returns from a bruised foot injury) back with center Ryan Spooner to reunite the good chemistry they developed down the stretch last year that plays well to their speed and skill, and ability to back teams up. They are offensive weapons for the B’s that could be further leveraged.

It’s critical in today’s fast, skilled NHL to have an offensive-defensive skill balance in the lineup over the course of a full season, and having a speed line would add something to the table. The B’s new strategy of pushing the pace more quickly from the defensemen up to the forwards and having a blueliner jump into the play as a fourth attacker has paid off in stretches with newcomers like D-man Colin Miller, 23, (6 points in 11 games) helping with his speed, slapper and patience with the puck in finding the open man, but in bad losses against gunslingers from Dallas Nov. 3 and Washington Nov. 5 the Bruins seemed to get away from both that strategy and their traditional smothering defensive style. They had trouble entering and setting up in the Capitals’ zone and eventually crumbled under Washington’s skill and size, giving away too many penalties in the process.

Mixing lines to squeeze out a little more offense could also help alleviate pressure on the young defensive end. There is an old adage going back to Bobby Orr’s days that sometimes the best defense is the best offense.

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  • The Spooner-Pastrnak duo led all Bruins in points with 17 over the final 20 games last year. Spooner, 23, 5’10”, 184 lbs, finished with 18 points in 29 games, while Pastrnak, 19, 6’0”, 181 lbs, put up 27 points in 46 games as a rookie.

    It was hoped they would pick up where they left off this year, but Bruins coach Claude Julien split them up in the offseason putting Pastrnak on a skill line with center David Krejci, and Spooner on a backchecking/forechecking line with Jimmy Hayes and lately Matt Beleskey. While they have each played well enough, with Spooner notching two goals and seven points in 12 games and Pastrnak putting up two goals and four points with 10 hits, 10 takeaways and 24 shots in 10 games, their overall production is a little off last year’s pace and some of that could be attributed to adjusting to new lines.

    Spooner plays with two north-south players who base their offense on creating turnovers in the neutral zone and driving the net. He’s been adapting to playing better defense and creating chances that way with his speed to round out his game, but his shots are down (15 in 12 games compared with 73 in 29 games last year). Meanwhile Pastrnak has shown flashes working with Krejci, but that line’s game isn’t about speed and his numbers are also down a bit.

    Going back to an attacking speed line with Spooner might put a little danger back in the Bruins game. Both players also use their speed and skill to draw penalties. Pastrnak leads the team in penalties drawn per 60 minutes with 1.8, while Spooner averages 1.0.

    Oct 17, 2015; Glendale, AZ, USA; Arizona Coyotes goalie Mike Smith (41) amkes a save on Boston Bruins left wing David Pastrnak (88) as defenseman Zbynek Michalek (4) defends during the first period at Gila River Arena. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

    It’s possible that Julien has kept the two apart for defensive reasons, opting to put them with more experienced two-way players that can help them hone their defensive games. Spooner has struggled on faceoffs at 38% this season and is -2, while Pastrnak is -3 overall.

    They both had a tough defensive night Oct. 21 against Philadelphia, when Pastrnak had a casual line change that led to an open ice counterattack goal and Spooner lost a key faceoff resulting in him taking a costly overtime penalty but both continue to improve their defensive play and are becoming more consistent in coverage. Their offensive abilities are clearly strengths that often are needed late in games. Both can get by players with their speed and skill, and complement one another well.  “He’s one of those guys who has us the ability to win us a hockey game,” Julien said of Spooner in the Boston Herald after the loss to the Flyers. “But he also has to get better in those areas. (Move) your feet and be in the right position.”

    Mar 28, 2015; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Bruins center Ryan Spooner (51) skates with the puck as New York Rangers defenseman Dan Boyle (22) defends during the second period at TD Banknorth Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

    After the Flyers’ game Julien perhaps unfairly signaled out Pastrnak, whose game is all about creativity and bringing new things to the offense. “It’s about respecting the game, more than just scoring the goals,” Julien told the Herald. “There’s a learning curve there. There’s also a respect factor there that you’ve got to understand: There’s more to the game than just trying to be flashy.”

    However Julien called out the whole team’s battle effort that night, and it seemed to light a fuse because they won the next four.

    With the B’s testing out Alexander Khokhlachev (AHL points leader before his recall) and now UMass alum Frank Vatrano (10 goals in 10 games in Providence) in Pastrnak’s spot with Krejci and Loui Ericksson, the B’s could even consider playing one of the two with Spooner and Pastrnak once he returns from injury and form a ‘young guns’ skill line. Or the B’s could keep Spooner and Pastrnak with Beleskey, who plays a heavy Milan Lucic-type game battling in the corners and driving the net that complemented their line well last season. Zac Rinaldo brings speed, draws penalties and has even shown a little offensive flair at times to go with his rugged game that might also make for an intriguing Spooner/Pastrnak linemate.

    To get Pastrnak back with Spooner the Bruins could move Hayes to right wing on Krejci’s line, as Krejci always seemed to shine most in the past playing with two big wings.

    “I like it; I like offensive players. I know you need a balance to win games, but it’s nice to see guys out there making plays, finding chemistry.” – Bruce Cassidy, Providence Bruins Head Coach

    Khokhlachev formed part of a super line in Providence for a short while with Vatrano and center Austin Czarnik before Czarnik got hurt and works his way back. Vatrano’s release and shot, Czarnik’s passing and playmaking skills, and Khokhlachev’s puck skills and compete level on the walls and net led to an Oct. 11 win over Portland where the trio amassed 12 points.

    None of the three possess great size (5’9”-5’11”), much like Pastrnak and Spooner, and they are a good example of emerging NHL trends toward more speed, skill and offense that don’t necessarily rely on size. “I like it; I like offensive players,” Providence Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said on the Bruins website. “I know you need a balance to win games, but it’s nice to see guys out there making plays, finding chemistry.”

    Cassidy likened the style to Tampa Bay’s AHL affiliate that has developed young smallish snipers like Tyler Johnson and Jonathan Drouin. “We’ve seen it — the kids in Tampa that came through Syracuse. They weren’t huge,” he said. “I think there’s room in the game for that type of line now, whereas maybe years ago, you had to have that big guy on the line to kind of complement them. I’m not sure if that’s the case. It helps if you have that guy, but I thought [the Czarnik line] did pretty well, and maybe they’ll get a chance again.”

    The B’s will need continued progression from their young offensive players over the season as they confront more of the speed/skill monster teams in today’s league. They will need speed, skill, creativity and dynamism to mix things up and keep teams honest. With the Bruins’ monumental mistake to trade a generational modern speed/shot/skill talent in Tyler Seguin still haunting them, it is clear they need more skill to compete with top teams in the league and should hone the talents of their developing offensive-minded youth to help bring the team up to speed.

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