David Pastrnak made his return to the Bruins’ lineup on Tuesday night at the Bell Centre in Montreal.
He was given fourth line duty alongside Max Talbot and Zac Rinaldo. He had missed three games with an upper-body injury.
Prior to that, he had been out of the Spoked-B sweater for nearly seven weeks, first dealing with a fracture in his foot, then getting up to speed down in Providence, before heading overseas to compete for his native Czech Republic in the World Junior Championship.
Pastrnak's season hasn't necessarily gone the way Pastrnak — or the Bruins — would have hoped.
So, on Tuesday night against the Canadiens, in just his 14th game of the season, getting fourth line minutes wasn’t surprising. It was beneficial.
Pastrnak made use of the shifts doled out to him. He focused on doing his job. He earned a goal and an assist in Boston’s 4-1 win.
“I don’t have problem to play with any line, you know,” Pastrnak said following the Bruins’ practice at TD Garden on Wednesday, the morning after the big victory. “I try every time that I’m on a line, no matter what line I play and I try to read from the players, what they kind of need from me, so just trying to fit into every line.”
“Doesn’t matter how much I play, just I’m happy for everything that I get.”
Pastrnak finished his first game back with 7:05 in ice time - all at even strength. He finished the night a plus-2. He scored on his only shot and registered a takeaway.
“[It was] his first game back from a minor injury, and even then, I don’t know that he was 100 percent,” said Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien. “But he was good enough to go. So we thought he’d be a good asset for us and I thought he did a good job on that line with two players that really work hard and create things, and he was able to go out there and finish some of that stuff.”
Talbot and Rinaldo had been cruising along on a strong fourth line with Landon Ferraro, but Ferraro wasn’t able to suit up against Montreal due to a day-to-day lower-body injury. Pastrnak picked up where Ferraro left off.
“Took a little bit of pressure off him, too, not to have to play against the other team’s top players all the time,” said Julien. “It was good to see. We’ll manage him on a daily basis, as far as where he goes and how much he gets and so on, so forth.”
No other Bruin was sub-10 minutes in ice time during that game. Pastrnak played three shifts in the first period, two in the second and three in the third. It didn’t matter, though. He made use of the time given to him.
Late in the second period, Pastrnak’s forecheck led to Patrice Bergeron’s go-ahead goal to make it 2-1.
Then, in the third period, Pastrnak was waiting, trying to stay in the game and keep his legs ready.
With 8:02 left in regulation, he was tapped by Julien to "Go out and have a good shift.” It was his first shift of the period.
He hopped over the boards, assisted Rinaldo in a strong forecheck along the boards, closed off the Habs’ clear, wrapped around the goal and potted the Bruins’ insurance goal to make it 3-1 with 7:46 to go.
When Pastrnak returned to the bench, Julien leaned over and gave him a simple message: “That’s why I put you out there.”
When Pastrnak played his first games in Boston in 2014-15, there were high expectations placed on his shoulders. Would he be the right winger to complement David Krejci? They were fellow Czech natives and became fast friends, after all.
The arrival of Matt Beleskey and the resurgence of Loui Eriksson’s game made it easier to not peg Pastrnak into that role alongside Krejci, playing against opponent’s top lines. That’s a tall task for a 19-year-old.
Krejci will soon return from an upper-body injury that has kept him out for close to a month. It’s tough to predict how the lines will shake out throughout the next few months in the second half of the season, if the lineup stays healthy.
Pastrnak found chemistry with Ryan Spooner in the final stretch of 2014-15, along with Milan Lucic. That could be a fit. He wound up with the Bruins Seventh Player Award at the end of that season, thanks to his play in the second half.
Right now, though, he’s just focused on getting his game back to 100 percent and being able to help the team — something he unfortunately hasn’t been able to do much this season, given his time out of the lineup.
Entering Thursday night’s game against Vancouver, Pastrnak had suited up in just 14 games for Boston, with four goals and three assists.
“It was frustrating for me, but I spent the majority of time injured so I worked a lot and now I’m finally getting back, you know,” said Pastrnak. “Still a bunch of games coming up, so for me, it’s just get back to 100 percent and since I’ve been 100 percent, I want to get better every day and help the team as much as I can.”
With the roster in limbo, due to Krejci’s impending return, it’s unknown where Pastrnak will end up.
But if he continues to make the most of whatever ice time’s he’s given, he’ll prove himself trustworthy of more responsibility — without lofty outside expectations placed on him and his offensive output.
That responsibility could mean being tapped for a shift in the middle of a third period, when the next goal would be a difference-maker in the game.
“He did a great job — we put him on the fourth line, not to have to play against top lines, and at the same time, with two guys that work hard their butts off and create things,” Julien said of the opportunity he gave Pastrnak in Montreal. “So when I put him out there in the third, in the middle of the third period, I said, ‘Guys, go out there and have a great shift for us’ and not only that, but Pasta did a great job of jumping on that loose puck and scoring the insurance goal.”
“He did a great job there and for this young player who hasn’t played in a while, it was a good start for him.”
Pastrnak went into his sophomore season looking to build on his strong finish to 2014-15. It unfortunately wasn’t able to happen at the start. It’s been difficult for him to get into a rhythm. But with the right attitude — and opportunity — Pastrnak still has a chance to make an impact.
“ I love hockey and it doesn’t matter if I play at the World Juniors or if I play in Providence, or here — obviously the happiest [is when] I’m here,” he said. “It’s just a beautiful sport and I’m happy I can be here.”