Bruins must better execute their plan for protecting David Pastrnak

By WEEI 93.7
“Well, we try to be physical. I don’t think that’s ever been a trait that’s not in our room. Some games, it doesn’t work out that way. It seemed like there wasn’t a lot there tonight.” – Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy

It shouldn’t have come down to John Moore fighting Zack Smith, and the Bruins knew it.

In dropping a 4-3 overtime decision to the Chicago Blackhawks at TD Garden on Thursday night, the Bruins did more than just lose their eight-game winning streak and a point in the standings that might come in handy down the road.

They lost a little of their manhood, watching the Blackhawks, no one’s idea of the Broad Street Bullies (or even the Madison Street Mayhem?), pound away at their star forward David Pastrnak with impunity – that is until Moore stepped in after Smith’s crunching hit in the third period.

(Legal or not, Smith’s was borderline enough to require a response if the Bruins weren’t going to do anything to the Blackhawks earlier in the game to discourage such hits.)

A look at Zack Smith's hit on David Pastrnak.

— Conor Ryan (@ConorRyan_93) December 6, 2019

And even then, Moore’s defense of the NHL’s leading goal scorer lasted the blink of an eye, ending when Moore felt a twinge in the surgically repaired shoulder that had kept him out of the lineup all season until Thursday.

It was like an older brother getting picked on at high school asking his elementary-aged brother to go pick a fight.

The roughhousing didn’t start Thursday. It really began in earnest against Claude Julien’s Montreal Canadiens last Sunday. Montreal took its physical abuse of Pastrnak to a level other opponents hadn’t raised it so far this season. Pastrnak took the beating and then scored the game-tying goal. Carolina kept the heat on him Tuesday and kept him off the score sheet. He took a roughing penalty against the Hurricanes, another one against Chicago on Thursday. He says he’s not frustrated, and the Montreal game was proof he could take a licking and make opponents pay his own way.

But again, it shouldn’t be open season on Pastrnak, and it shouldn't be a third-period semi-fight by your sixth defenseman in his comeback game from injury answering the bell.

This isn’t about the Bruins lacking physicality or intimidation. Don’t start tweeting and emailing about the Bruins needing to add a Tom Wilson-type player (doesn’t exist or isn’t available) or a Milan Lucic or a Zac Rinaldo. The ‘80s called (or maybe it was the 2000s) and they want your caveman instincts back.

What this is about is the likes of Sean Kuraly, David Backes, Chris Wagner, Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo setting the physical tone early so that if teams still want to take runs at Pastrnak, their best players are also going to feel some pain.

Backes acknowledged that plan after the loss to Chicago.

“I think the new NHL way to prevent it is for – if that’s how they’re going to play, and Pasta’s a big kid, he can hold his own – then Patrick Kane needs to be hit forcefully and not given any space, and maybe he [has to have> a few [liberties> taken at him,” Boston’s alternate captain said. “It’s incumbent on the rest of us to recognize that happening and then hit their skill to either see who’s going to last or maybe their skill set is take it easy on him.”

The Bruins didn’t lose to the Blackhawks because of Chicago’s punishment on Pastrnak, although that was part of the game plan that helped Chicago extend Pastrnak’s goal drought to two games for the first time in almost a month. The Bruins lost because playing from behind finally caught up with them (they’d been tied or behind in the third period of their four prior wins) and they left enough margin for error that one bad break in overtime beat them.


— Blackhawks Talk (@NBCSBlackhawks) December 6, 2019

They had some more puck management problems, lacked some gumption to create second chances around the net, and yes, they also were matched in the physical game, with the Blackhawks’ body contact seemingly taking at least a slightly larger amount of toll on the Bruins than vice versa.

It’s easy for an eight-game win streak, that is still a 13-game point streak, by a team that went to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, to distort some players’ images of themselves. The checkers want to score more, the scorers want to make the highlight reels rather than battle in the trenches for their goals. We’ve seen some of that in the Bruins’ wins, and now we’ve seen it in a loss. We’ve also seen the game plan we all knew was coming for opponents looking to bottle up Boston’s scoring machine.

David Pastrnak seems ready for it to keep coming.

“I mean it’s hockey, I don’t really get frustrated anymore. Obviously besides when we lose,” he said.

Well it’s unlikely there’ll be too many losses in the Bruins’ near future to frustrate Pastrnak if his teammates return to playing their roles properly. That will get them back to their team identity and the hits will keep on coming, but from them as well as their foes.

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