The return of David Pastrnak on Wednesday was an eye-popping one. You could see the video of him going through the legs on a 2-on-1 and firing a backhander on net like he was already in midseason form. If you looked closely, you saw the video of him taking one timers from his favorite spot in the offensive zone. You probably even saw the angle from right behind the top left corner of the net.
Looked good, right? Pastrnak in his prime. Satisfying.
But then came Thursday and Pastrnak, along with fellow Czech Ondrej Kase, were deemed “unfit” to practice. As flashy as it was, No. 88’s return to the ice was short-lived. Back to the shelf he went. First, he had to enter International Quarantine protocol in accordance with NHL rules and the Massachusetts Board of Health. Then came the “unfit to play” designation.
This is life now.
Pastrnak’s agent J.P. Barry told the Athletic Friday afternoon that his client came into contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19, however he tested negative.
Nobody seems to know when Pastrnak will be able to return. The Bruins head to Toronto on July 26 and from there, they will begin Phase 4 in the bubble. Time is flying these quarantine days, so that departure date will arrive faster than a Zdeno Chara slapshot from the blue line.
So, what does this all mean?
For one thing, Anders Bjork and Karson Kuhlman getting reps on the top two lines won’t just be an experiment but rather something we’ll probably see for most of, if not the remainder, of camp. Bjork has certainly skated shifts next to Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand while Kuhlman was even alongside David Krejci at times during last year’s Stanley Cup Final. Both young wingers have legitimate top-six potential, yet it’s highly unlikely either of them begin the postseason in the slots they’re in now.
However, in an emergency scenario — say, Pastrnak or Kase contract COVID-19 once the playoffs begin — Bjork and Kuhlman have proven to be solid secondary options in amongst the top two lines.
Here’s how a Marchand-Bergeron-Bjork line has performed since the start of 2017-18 in comparison to Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak.
- 87 games (59:40 TOI)
- 5v5 Corsi For per 60: 69.39
- 5v5 Goals For per 60: 4.02
- 5v5 Expected Goals For per 60: 2.56
- 159 games (1634:07 TOI)
- 5v5 Corsi For per 60: 66.09
- 5v5 Goals For per 60: 3.63
- Expected Goals For per 60: 2.63
In no way am I arguing that Bjork makes a better trio with Marchand and Bergeron than Pastrnak. The Bruins top line is one of the best in hockey. It’s a matchup nightmare for any opponent. They can score in a multitude of fashions and they can prevent the opposition from scoring in a multitude of fashions. They are dominant.
There are not enough heart eye emojis in the world for this video 😍 pic.twitter.com/ID2msuz4ub
— NESN (@NESN) July 15, 2020
What I am saying is that — in an emergency scenario — Bjork would be a fine placeholder on that line. Right now, Bergeron and Marchand are using Bjork as an understudy for when Pastrnak returns.
“Bergy and myself, it doesn’t take long for chemistry to bounce back with us and I feel the same way with Pasta,” Marchand said on a Zoom call with reporters Saturday afternoon. “Even when I’m going down with Bjork now and with Bergy, we’re kind of looking into the areas where Pasta normally sets up. It’s not that I’m trying to build chemistry with Bjork — I’m just out there trying to fine tune my skills and what I need to work on to get back to where my game is.”
As is Kuhlman’s case with Krejci, there isn’t another steady, second-line right wing to which he compares. Instead, let’s compare Krejci-Kuhlman with and without Jake DeBrusk. The numbers are much better when that trio is together.
- 29 games (201:19 TOI)
- 5v5 Corsi For per 60: 64:08
- 5v5 Goals For per 60: 2.68
- Expected Goals For per 60: 2.59
Krejci-Kuhlman without DeBrusk
- 30 games (54:49)
- 5v5 Corsi For per 60: 50.33
- 5v5 Goals For Per 60: 2.19
- Expected Goals For per 60: 2.32
Kase will most likely play next to Krejci and DeBrusk once the Bruins transition to Toronto for round robin games. But, in a doomsday scenario, Kuhlman can easily be slipped onto that line next to Krejci and find some success.
The next issue is how much does this quarantine impact Pastrnak’s game?
David Pastrnak working from his office. pic.twitter.com/JB4jvbXSMa
— Conor Ryan (@ConorRyan_93) July 15, 2020
Pastrnak spent most of the four-month pause skating in the Czech Republic so, judging off that and how he looked Wednesday, he still has his skating legs under him. The big issue will be regaining chemistry with linemates and scoring at a crazy pace. We know Pastrnak has no problems putting pucks in the net — had the season not been cut short, he would’ve certainly hit 50 goals.
But during playoff hockey and facing the same team over and over with game plans designed to neutralize opposing scorers, Pastrnak will certainly have a tougher time earning a spot on the scoresheet.
Being available to participate in Return-to-Play camp would certainly help with that.
Since Pastrnak and Kase were deemed unfit to participate on Thursday, Joakim Nordstrom joined the two wingers on Friday and Saturday had Tuukka Rask, Torey Krug, Sean Kuraly, Chris Wagner, Nick Ritchie, Charlie Coyle and Krejci also wrangled into the “unfit to participate” group. Nordstrom rejoined the team for practice Saturday. All of those players returned for Monday’s practice except for Pastrnak, Kase and Wagner.
For the rest of the team, it’s been a bit of a wakeup call to be extra careful during these critical times.
“It’s tough news,” Charlie McAvoy said in a Zoom call with reporters Saturday. “Obviously we want both Pasta and those guys at the rink right now. But I really think everybody has taken it really serious and understands what we need to do in order to have success and be in a good position and wear masks and just kind of taking care of ourselves, so I know that it’s unfortunate.”
It is extremely unfortunate for the Bruins and for Pastrnak. The question then comes down to whether or not he or Kase will be able to return to camp by the time the playoffs roll around.
“At some point in time we are certainly hopeful they will join our full group,” Don Sweeney said of Pastrnak and Kase Sunday morning.
While the Bruins depart for the NHL hub city of Toronto on July 26, we won’t know just how much missing significant time in camp has impacted Pastrnak and Kase until games begin on Aug. 2.
This is now the new NHL reality with COVID-19.