BOSTON — David Pastrnak is the NHL’s leading goal-scorer and fresh off being named the league’s first star of the week, but he’s not ready to adjust his pre-season Hart Trophy prediction.
Pastrnak is still calling Auston Matthews for MVP – his own hot start and the Boston-Toronto rivalry, be damned.
"He has an unbelievable shot and skillset and he can find the soft spot [on the ice], you know?" Pastrnak said before Tuesday’s game against the Maple Leafs. "Every time he’s 100 per cent healthy he’s showing that. I just think he’s a hell of a player."
Consider it a case of familiarity breeding respect.
Pastrnak said he didn’t take any playful jabs from teammates after naming a Maple Leaf as his Hart Trophy favourite despite the Atlantic Division rivals having met in the playoffs in consecutive years. Matthews had five goals against the Bruins in last spring’s seven-game series and set up Morgan Rielly’s overtime winner when the teams met Saturday night in Toronto.
"Hockey’s a team sport and I think we can all agree they have some great players," said Pastrnak. "I don’t think it’s something wrong with just giving him credit when he deserves it."
The respect goes both ways.
Matthews calls Pastrnak’s line with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron the best in hockey, and had the ice tilted against him in the nine-plus minutes they went head-to-head on Saturday night.
Pastrnak has more goals (9-8) and points (15-11) than Matthews to start the season despite playing two fewer games. But with a 33 per cent shooting percentage, he doesn’t expect his pace to continue.
"I’ve been getting the looks and pretty much every time I get a look so far I was lucky to capitalize on it," said Pastrnak. "There’s going to be nights you can get five looks and none of them going to go in, you know, but so far it’s been going in.
"I’m not planning to change anything."
The 23-year-old Czech winger draws tough assignments every night, but takes a straightforward approach to striking the right balance between his offensive and defensive responsibilities.
"Spend the whole game in the O-zone, right?" he said. "That’s the focus."
The Bruins aren’t receiving very much secondary scoring these days, but coach Bruce Cassidy plans to ride his top line pretty hard during Tuesday’s game. They’re back to producing at an elite level and will have three days to recover before Saturday’s Stanley Cup rematch with St. Louis.
"I like the way they play, I like watching them play," Cassidy said of his Perfection Line. "They’re good players, they’re all well-conditioned and they’re all healthy. So I’m sure they’ll get their share of minutes."
With John Tavares out for the Leafs because of a broken finger, the Bruins can count on seeing even more of Matthews than usual at TD Garden.
He’s averaging a career-best 19:25 on the season and is generating more than four shots per game – among the best rates in the NHL. If that continues, he could challenge for the Rocket Richard Trophy and, perhaps, the Hart.
"It’s early in the season and he’s showing that he can score goals," said Pastrnak. "He’s been showing that since he got here."