By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
As if Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy didn’t have enough to worry about with six rookies and two second-year players dressed against Minnesota on Monday, he had to deal with a small crisis of decision-making with one of his core players.
So with the Bruins clinging to a three-goal lead that quickly became a one-goal lead in the third period against the Wild, Cassidy limited top-line right wing David Pastrnak to five shifts.
One of those shifts saw Pastrnak make an ill-fated pass back toward his own net that turned into a Mikael Granlund goal for the Wild. The rest were spent trying to learn on the job, and Pastrnak finished his last shift with more than four minutes remaining in Bruins’ 5-3 victory.
If Cassidy has a dog house, though, it probably barely fits a Chihuahua. After the game, Cassidy promised to address the issue with Pastrnak on Tuesday and that meeting happened.
“We went over a few things, good and bad, offensively and challenging their D and getting shots through, with certain plays he was very good,” Cassidy said after the Bruins had an optional practice at Warrior Ice Arena before traveling to New York. “Just asked him to be a little more diligent with the puck, harder on the puck in our end, and make better decisions, grow as a player.”
Pastrnak wouldn’t divulge specifics of the conversation, but the $6.67 million forward took the message to heart.
“No, I think it’s between me and him. We’re just trying to get me better and I’m trying to get better,” said Pastrnak, who had an assist in the win against the Wild. “It’s normal stuff in hockey, you have a meeting with the coaches and players. I said, it’s nice, we’re just trying to get me better and it’s on me to do the same.”
Pastrnak must have a deal with the TD Garden stats keepers, because he was charged with just three giveaways against the Wild. One must assume that of the 13 takeaways credited to Minnesota, more than half had to be stripping Pastrnak of possession, although he wasn’t really being pressured to cough up the puck every time.
Many of his miscues came at the attacking blue line, which can be as much trouble as a gaffe in the defensive zone, especially against a team with speed like the Wild. Before Granlund was granted a third-period penalty shot, it was Pastrnak who coughed up the puck. Other plays similarly gave the Wild possession when the puck should’ve been sent deep in their zone.
Pastrnak wasn’t too concerned with those errors and he thought he had a “pretty good offensive game.” Pastrnak had three shots on net in an effort to make up for those uncredited giveaways. Cassidy didn’t emphasize Pastrnak’s offensive troubles as much as his defensive foibles. Maybe the coach doesn’t want to do anything to discourage his creative forward’s aggressiveness, or to put too much on Pastrnak’s plate right now. But one could easily apply Cassidy’s urging of Pastrnak to be harder on the puck in the defensive zone to his play in the offensive zone.
The Cassidy-Pastrnak relationship seems to be on solid footing. A little tough love can go a long way and Cassidy deserves credit for sending a message to Pastrnak by limiting his ice time in a tight game – the type of move Cassidy’s predecessor would’ve been lambasted for.
If all goes well, Cassidy and Pastrnak will be working together into the next decade of Bruins hockey. The precedent has been set and there are no secrets between the two about expectations. For Cassidy, Pastrnak’s willingness to learn makes it easy to go back with the player in a primary role for the next game and beyond, and maybe even put Pastrnak in the situations he wasn’t able to play in just one game ago.
“We made an investment in David because we do believe he’s a high-character guy and he cares,” Cassidy said. “So it’s just a matter of tightening that up. This isn’t some big red flag where we’re losing faith in David. It’s just tightening up that part of his game.”
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter@MattKalman.