With every puck he hammers home, David Pastrnak is re-enforcing the wonderful fact that we’ve arrived at a point where anything seems possible in the new NHL.
Until very recently, any contemporary offensive achievements only stood up to those of the past if you used a little era-adjusted scoring sleight of hand. We knew the likes of Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin and Patrick Kane were doing great things within the context of their time, but it was hard to imagine they’d ever actually equal the crooked numbers 99 and 66 posted when goalies were wearing little more than paper towel rolls on their legs and unscreened shots from a foot inside the blue-line regularly hit twine.
Then Nikita Kucherov scored 128 points last year — the most in any season since 1995-96 — and the conversation around increased offence went from sounding like two people with pencils in their ears talking about incremental gains to a couple of gregarious dudes at the bar using expletives in their most complimentary form to describe what this one-man wrecking ball from Tampa was doing. There’s also this Ovechkin guy who recorded his 24th career hat trick on Saturday, moving him to 10th all-time on that list. “The Great 8” is depositing goals at his most prolific pace in a decade and the talk he could actually catch Wayne Gretzky’s all-time mark of 894 flares up every time he pops off.
So while we’re at it, how about a 50-in-50?
Though he may have recorded the assist of the year on Friday to beat the Rangers in overtime, everybody knows goals are “Pasta’s” bread and butter. With 27 Bruins games in the books, Pastrnak has 25 goals and his latest effort — a third-period equalizer Sunday night against Montreal in a game Boston ultimately won 3-1 — was a slappy tribute to his other-level sniping abilities.
It’s completely justified to wonder if the 23-year-old Czech can become the first player to net 50 goals in his team’s first 50 games since Brett Hull did it for the second time in consecutive seasons in 1991-92.
(Remember, a true 50-in-50 requires a player hit the half-century mark in game No. 50 for his club. The only players to turn that trick are Hull, Gretzky, Mike Bossy, Mario Lemieux and Maurice Richard. Others, like Alex Mogilny and Cam Neely, have netted 50 goals in 50 or fewer games played.)
Combine Pastrnak’s outrageous skills with the fact he plays on an all-time dominant line (when everyone is healthy) and is the triggerman on a lethal power play (nearly half of his goals have come on the PP) and the skepticism that he could actually achieve this throwback feat starts to thaw. The steal of the 2014 draft — Pastrnak wasn’t taken until the 25th selection — is registering 0.93 goals-per-game right now and nobody has finished a season with a mark better than that in more than 20 years. Yes, he’s shooting 23.1 per-cent at the moment and it’s hard to imagine that won’t come down some in coming months. The point, though, is that this feels like something we could still be talking about around the Christmas tree and hopefully into the New Year, right up until the point Boston plays its 50th game in Pittsburgh on Jan. 19.
A short time ago, things like 50-in-50 were just a hockey ghost story from the past. Now, if you flip on a Bruins game, it’s reality T.V.
Other Weekend Takeaways
• Speaking of Boston, if you’d asked me prior to the season which Atlantic Division powerhouse might have to sweat a little to lock down a playoff spot, I would have answered Boston pretty quickly ahead of Tampa Bay and Toronto. Those latter two teams might not be as suited to the playoff grind as the B’s, but they have so much high-end skill that I assumed they’d more easily breeze through the first 82 than the Bruins. Colour me stupid. Boston basically has the division locked up thanks to a 12-point lead; it hasn’t lost in regulation time since Nov. 8 and has yet to drop a 60-minute game at home this season, full stop. I guess they really didn’t like the taste of that Game 7 Cup loss at home.
• Not many teams are hotter than Boston right now, but the Philadelphia Flyers are one. Philly was one of four clubs to play 16 November games and no NHL squad banked more points in the month than the Flyers’ 24, the final four earned on wins that came Friday in Detroit and Saturday in Montreal. On a completely related note, Carter Hart’s October save percentage in seven games was .864. His November number in 10 outings was .927. Brian Elliott, by the way, has been solid all season.
• Smile of the Weekend Pt. 1. Sergei Bobrovsky has yet to deliver on the $10-million promise he made to the Florida Panthers last summer, but 25-year-old Chris Driedger made good on the very first start of his NHL career by blanking the Nashville Predators on Saturday. Prior to that showing, Driedger made appearances — but not starts — in a single game for three consecutive seasons with the Ottawa Senators. His most recent NHL action before Saturday’s contest came three years ago in the form of a 40-minute outing in October of 2016 in which he surrendered four goals on 15 shots to the Calgary Flames.
• Smile of the Weekend Pt. 2. Understated star Mikko Koivu celebrated his 1,000th career game — all with the Minnesota Wild — by registering his 700th career point and netting the shootout winner in a 3-2 victory over the Dallas Stars on Sunday afternoon. I don’t know how to say congratulations in Finnish, but I bet it sounds awesome.
Red and White Power Rankings
1. Edmonton Oilers (17-9-3) – Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl were split up for Sunday’s match in Vancouver and the result was Edmonton snapping a two-game stumble. They still managed to team up on a power-play goal, naturally, one of two tallies for Draisaitl in the contest.
2. Winnipeg Jets (16-10-1) – The Jets capped a stellar November by taking two of three on a swing through California. This team just can’t catch a break on defence, though, as Dmitry Kulikov was forced out of Friday’s win in Anaheim and didn’t dress in the loss to the Kings 24 hours later.
3. Toronto Maple Leafs (13-11-4) – The Leafs finally won the second of a back-to-back by claiming the home half of their two-game set with Buffalo on Saturday, but the lesson of the weekend has to be that this team still needs a real No. 2 after Michael Hutchinson took a shaky ‘L’ in Buffalo on Friday afternoon.
4. Vancouver Canucks (13-11-4) – If you’re wondering, yes, Loui Eriksson still plays for this team and he registered his first goal of the year during Saturday’s win in Edmonton.
5. Calgary Flames (13-12-4) – In a week that saw head coach Bill Peters resign and lots of talk about things far more important than hockey, the Flames managed to pick up five of six points after defeating the Senators at home on Saturday.
6. Montreal Canadiens (11-10-6) – The count is now at eight straight losses, the worst streak for this team since a rough patch back in the 1939-40 season. Does GM Marc Bergevin have no choice but to take bold action?
7. Ottawa Senators (11-15-1) – Tough start to a five-game roadie, getting pasted 7-2 in Minnesota on Friday and losing to the Flames the next night.
In Your Ear
Gare Joyce knows Akim Aliu about as well as any person in the media, having first covered him when Aliu was barely into his teen years. Joyce joined Hockey Central’s Justin Bourne and I to discuss the many dimensions of Aliu’s back story on the latest episode of the Tape-to-Tape podcast.
The Week Ahead
• The Columbus Blue Jackets will begin life without top defenceman Zach Werenski when they face Arizona at home on Tuesday. Werenski injured his shoulder during Saturday’s loss to the Islanders and is unlikely to play before 2020.
• Less than two weeks after Colorado hosted the Leafs, Nazem Kadri returns to the city he called home for a decade when the Avs visit Toronto on Wednesday. Mikko Rantanen returned to the Colorado lineup on Saturday, registered four points in his first action in over a month and was then held out of the third period for what coach Jared Bednar described as precautionary reasons after the winger “tweaked” his leg a little bit. The coach said it was nothing to be concerned with.
• There’s a pretty tasty home-and-home between cresting Central Division teams on tap this week as Winnipeg opens its doors to Dallas on Tuesday before the squads head to Texas for a Thursday night tilt.