TORONTO, ONTARIO – One of the big laments from last season’s Bruins team was the lack of a consistent net-front presence ready to do wreak havoc around the cage, putting D-men and goalies on notice that it was going to be a long night.
In one game with the Bruins, David Backes announced with authority that the B’s have their net-front presence ready to battle. The 6-foot-3, 215-pounder was at the heart of an offensive binge for his line that saw him score two goals, and help produce 12 points in a 6-3 comeback win over the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena.
Backes also has a newfound fan in Brad Marchand, who has developed a greater respect for his game while playing alongside him.
“He’s awesome. He’s a phenomenal player. I played against him a couple of times, but I never realized how good he really was with the puck, and how smart he was,” said Marchand. “I knew he was really hard to play against and I never enjoyed it, but he’s an awesome guy to have on our team. We’re very fortunate that we signed him.”
Best of all, Backes scored one goal on a wild carom off the end boards from a Zdeno Chara point blast and then tipped a scorched David Pastrnak one-timer past Sergei Bobrovsky while grinding it out in front of the net. The 32-year-old Backes pays that kind of price shift after shift, when it’s not exactly fun to stand tall in front of the net. That does not go unnoticed by his teammates or his coach.
“That’s why we went and got him. We’ve talked about that [net-front presence] for a long time,” said Claude Julien. “He’s a big, strong player that can play center, and can play wing. We’ve liked his net-front presence and all of that stuff, and how strong he is. We had to replace a player that had a pretty good year for us in Loui Eriksson, so I thought it was a great choice to bring David Backes in. I think the team, and the organization, made a really solid decision there.”
The B’s bench boss could have gone even longer discussing Backes’ sudden impact in the Bruins dressing room.
It’s easy to see why Backes has so much success redirecting pucks at the front of the net when he regularly has teammates firing pucks at him while he’s camped in the crease during practice. That B’s haven’t had a player that puts that kind of effort and work into disrupting things in front of the opponent’s net since future Hall of Famer Mark Recchi did it regularly during his years with the Black and Gold. Backes said he learned the art of net-crashing in St. Louis from another big-bodied NHL name extremely familiar to Bostonians that appreciate their hockey: Keith Tkachuk.
“Through junior hockey and college hockey [getting to the front of the net] wasn’t something I was called upon to do. But at this level being a student of the game and being taught by a guy like Keith Tkachuk, you start to realize that’s where the puck is laying and where you can pop a few home,” said Backes. “It’s proven true for a lot of years for me. It’s a hard area of the ice, but it’s a rewarding one too. You get to go there and make a difference.
“There are a few guys, like [Zdeno Chara], where if you go there you know you’re going to come out with some bruises. But a few bruises are a small price to pay for a win, and being able to bang a few home.”
His strength and toughness in all zones was one of the biggest reasons that Boston targeted Backes during the free agency period last season. The bonus now is that Backes becomes that Recchi or Tkachuk-like figure setting the example by paying the price around the net. Then the expectation becomes that other players will move out of their comfort zone to follow that lead, and in doing so make the Bruins a much tougher team to play against.