By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — We’re nearly two weeks clear of Christmas, so it’s time to put away the tree, pack up the decorations and stop sucking on those candy canes.
Bruins forward David Pastrnak discarded his candy cane Friday, but not because the holidays are over. Without a goal in the past 10 games, Pastrnak got rid of the candy cane tape job (the likes of which hadn’t been seen around these parts since Phil Kessel’s days) on his stick when he practiced with the Bruins at Warrior Ice Arena.
The change may have begun paying off.
“Already I had better one-timers today,” said Pastrnak, who did indeed bury a few one-timers in the back of the net during the 50-minute session while using a stick without stripes for the first time since early this season.
Pastrnak’s failure to add to his 15 goals has been more of an anomaly than a product of anything he’s done wrong or failed to do. Pastrnak has continued to help Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron provide the Bruins with the best two-way line in the NHL. He’s chipped in seven assists during the goal drought and the Bruins are 7-1-2 despite not getting any goals from their leader in points (35).
Although he’d like to see some of those one-timers get past opposing goaltenders the way they eluded his teammates Friday, Pastrnak’s not letting the scoring slump affect his mood.
“I’m not worrying about it. We are winning and we’re playing good hockey and that’s way more fun than bringing yourself down about your scoring drought,” Pastrnak said. “I think that we’re playing great hockey and I’m having as much fun as I would if I scored every game.”
Although he was second on the Bruins with 34 goals last season, Pastrnak endured a similar rough patch in 2016-17 when he went 17 games without a goal. What’s been huge for the Bruins has been the 21-year-old’s ability to find other ways to contribute, including defending better than early in the season.
Plus/minus is an antiquated way to measure defensive performance that should really be abolished, but players still look at that number. Pastrnak admitted than when his plus/minus sank as low as minus-10 in late November, he was suffering a crisis of confidence. Coach Bruce Cassidy wasn’t shy about criticizing Pastrnak’s play away from the puck and cut the forward’s ice time as a result.
“You get a couple empty-netters [against] and you kind of keep that in your mind that you’re deep in the minus. That’s not good for you and especially for the team. So I knew that was going to turn around,” said Pastrnak, who’s now plus-1 on the season. “Most of the time, I’m always a plus player. So for me it was just getting better in practice, when we’re practicing defense. I think I’m playing well now, so it’s good and I think we’re playing pretty good defense overall.”
In Tuesday’s win at the New York Islanders, Pastrnak picked forward Cal Clutterbuck’s pocket at the blue line and set up Marchand for a pivotal goal. That’s the type of play the Bruins will come to expect from Pastrnak, almost as much as a one-timer from the faceoff dot, as his game continues to evolve. That Cassidy has kept Pastrnak with Marchand and Bergeron is a sure sign that Pastrnak’s defensive game has pleased the coach.
The Bruins aren’t going to win forever without Pastrnak chipping in a few more goals, so that’s where superstition comes in. Pastrnak, who said he started using the candy cane style tape because he liked the grip, used a naked stick Friday and will probably take it into the games at home against Carolina and at Pittsburgh this weekend.
“We’ll see what it brings us,” Pastrnak said. “A little change can do big things, so we’ll see.”
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @MattKalman.