BOSTON - David Pastrnak took the latest step in his recovery from a thumb procedure on Tuesday when he skated while carrying a stick during a quick workout at Warrior Ice Arena.
"That's a good sign," said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. "Obviously that's probably another level of protocol that he had to get through."
Pastrnak has missed the last nine games after injuring his left thumb during a fall following a team sponsorship dinner on Feb. 10. The winger, who began skating on his own early on Feb. 25, is expected to be in a cast for at least another week, before transitioning into a splint, at which time he could re-join the team.
"How will that affect his stick handling, his shooting, his shot?" Cassidy said of the splint. "It may be less about [medical] clearance and more about him getting comfortable with that before he's ready to play."
Still the team's leading goal scorer with 31 goals, Pastrnak is expected to return to the lineup as soon as he is comfortable. Cassidy said on Tuesday morning that he did not expect the Bruins' place in the standings to determine whether or not the 22-year-old would be given any added rest - or conversely rushed back into the lineup.
"This will be strictly doctor, medical clearance for him," said Cassidy. "I think he'll want to play the day he's cleared so he can catch up a little bit. You miss three weeks - so let's say minimum a month - that's some catch-up time. I assume he's gonna want to get after it.
"Unless the doctor says there's risk coming back too soon. But generally they wouldn't clear him…as soon as he's ready I think he should get back in there and find out where he best fits and find his game. He will be a little bit behind."
Video: Cassidy gives update on Pastrnak
Depending on how he adjusts upon his return, Pastrnak could be playing with either of the top two lines, per Cassidy. Boston's bench boss would like to get a more extensive look at Pastrnak with David Krejci - with whom he was playing in the two games before he got hurt - but acknowledged that Pastrnak's familiarity with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand could benefit him as he works his way back up to speed.
"If he has a little bit of time to develop chemistry with Krejci…he has chemistry, but he hasn't played a lot with him this year," said Cassidy. "I think it's just easier for him to go back with Bergy and March if it's a real tight window to when the playoffs start. That will have something to do with it as well."
Either way, Cassidy will need to do some shuffling when Pastrnak gets back into the lineup.
If Pastrnak plays with Krejci, "that would allow [Marcus] Johansson to maybe play with [Charlie] Coyle which balances lines a little bit," said Cassidy. "If Pasta goes up with Bergy and March, then Danton [Heinen] could go down, back with Coyle as well.
"You don't want to go into the playoffs - and this is assuming we keep playing well - and have a whole bunch of new lines either. Have to be careful, but it is the hand we're dealt with Pasta.
"That will have something to do with it, how much chemistry do they have, how much time do they have to develop chemistry. We're gonna have to make a quick decision on that."
With Pastrnak out of the lineup for the last nine games, the Bruins have scored 31 goals - an average of 3.4, up from the 2.9 they were averaging in the 56 games with their leading scorer. Cassidy hopes that uptick continues when Pastrnak is back in the fold.
"I would think he's just gonna add more of that, more primary scoring with him," said Cassidy. "But assuming we keep it going…we're in a good stretch, but it doesn't mean it can't go the other way. We have to work hard to get our goals and get us now to where we feel we're a consistent threat to get a good number of goals."
In Pastrnak's absence, Boston has received a boost from second-year winger Jake DeBrusk, who leads the Bruins with 13 points and seven goals in those nine games.
"Some of it's coming rom Jake getting hot, hopefully a few other guys get a on roll," said Cassidy. "Pasta should add offense. He's done it consistently in the league. He did it last year in the playoffs. We're hoping that when he comes back he finds it quickly. But again, that's not an automatic either."
Video: Pastrnak skates with a stick, Kuraly gets closer
- Zdeno Chara was no worse for wear after taking a puck to the face during Monday's practice at Warrior Ice Arena. He escaped without any major damage and will be in the lineup on Tuesday against Carolina. "It's part of the hockey," said Chara. "It happens, nobody did anything wrong, it was just a fluky bounce and ended up in my face. Just the way it goes. It was a pass. We were practicing power play/PK and obviously guys did the right thing to have sticks in the passing lanes. These things happen. It's all good."
- Sean Kuraly skated for the second straight day and is aiming for a Thursday return. Kuraly suffered a concussion after taking a heavy hit in Thursday's win over Tampa Bay.
- Carolina enters the game as one of the league's hottest teams, having won five straight and 21 of 28 since Dec. 30. "We have to be at our best," said Chara. "Everybody plays extremely hard this time of the year, whether they're battling for better position in the playoffs or better position for next year. I think that everybody we're going to face for the rest of the season is going to be a challenge to play against. We've just got to focus on what we do, what we do well, and continue to play that way."
- Jaroslav Halak will start in goal against Carolina.
Video: Chara readies for Carolina