Bruins

Backes now a go-to guy in Bruins' time of need

bruins-david-backes.jpg

Backes now a go-to guy in Bruins' time of need

BRIGHTON, Mass – It’s certainly a statement on the Bruins’ current situation that David Backes has become a go-to guy just two games back from a return from a hospital stay for diverticulitis. Still, that’s where the injury-ravaged Black and Gold are at this point with David Krejci out for the short term with a back injury and are no other viable options to center alongside David Pastrnak and Jake DeBrusk after the B’s already tried a couple of miscast bottom-eight grunts, Riley Nash and Tim Schaller, in top-six center spots.

MORE BRUINS

Nash brought zero offense to the table when he stepped in for an injured Patrice Bergeron earlier this month and Schaller was pretty good early in the game before looking like the third/fourth line winger he is as the Bruins collapsed down the stretch.

“You have a center 1A and 1B, and you need to move somebody up in the lineup [without Krejci], so you need to see who’s prepared to grab that opportunity,” said Bruce Cassidy. “We’ve used different people. You’re looking for a guy that’s a little bit more of a distributor, and I think we’ve seen that with Jake in the lineup seeing more pucks. Now he’s going to have to do a little more of that on his own.

“We’ve used Backes, Nash and Schaller [to fill in at center] and Spooner early on, but he’s not available anymore. We want to put players in a position to succeed while still fitting our framework and I think David, for the most part, wants a line that fits his character and fits how he wants to play the game successfully. That’s the biggest challenge of putting together a line for him...that has success more from [showing] abrasiveness than playing with finesse.”

Backes, 33, will now have to show a little more of the finesse, however, as he’s skated at center between DeBrusk and Pastrnak in the past two practices. It’s more out of necessity than anything else based on the bodies missing, but it will also allow him to get a look in the middle after ostensibly playing just one game at center for the Bruins last season.

It’s a position that Backes has lobbied at times to be given a look and certainly something he’ll be excited for while playing with a couple of young, fast bodies on either side of him.

“I feel like they have extra pep in their steps, so hopefully I put pucks far enough in front of them to keep them going and help them score some more goals,” said Backes. “Pasta has that ability and JD has the wheels and the finish and just needs more repetition and opportunities and pucks are going to begin falling for him. He’ll be another dangerous weapon that we’ll have.

“It’s excitement for me. Nothing against San Jose [the B's Thursday night opponent], but they’re a bigger team that plays a heavy game. They have speed too, but they have guys like Joe Thornton where you need some size to be able to separate them from pucks. So hopefully my size in the defensive zone against them and LA is a good fit for me to get my feet wet against opponents as guys start to filter back into the lineup. We’ll see what happens after that, and then coaches can make whatever decisions are best for the team.”

The Bruins just have to hope that Backes is ready for the expanded role after just getting a couple of games under his belt and still looking to gain back some of the 10 pounds he lost to stomach issues the past few weeks. He had three shots on net in the win over Vancouver and played 18-plus minutes, but was less involved offensively while ratcheting up the physicality playing a third line winger role in the loss to Buffalo.

Now Backes will be expected to jump back fully after a couple of games to get warmed up, a byproduct of the massive rash of injuries that are forcing banged-up players to shoulder a heavy burden quickly upon their return to the lineup.

“That’s what this league is all about. You’re going to have injuries and you’re going to have places where you’ll need to have help and other guys stepping up. This is my chance to do that,” said Backes. “There’s something to be said about being a center of a line, being in control and you’re kind of the director of the orchestra with plays being made around you at times, and other times when you need to really push the pace. There’s a lot of pride to be taken there in helping your team win.”

Backes is willingly stepping up in Boston’s time of need with a significant top-six body missing from the lineup, and perhaps it’s exactly that kind of selfless, team-oriented action that will spark him. 

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE


 

Talking Points: Khudobin keeps rolling in shootout win

Talking Points: Khudobin keeps rolling in shootout win

GOLD STAR: Who else but Anton Khudobin? The Bruins backup netminder improved to 6-0-2 on the season and upped his NHL-leading save percentage to .938 while making 40 saves in a shootout win over the New Jersey Devils. Khudobin was outstanding stoning players like Nico Hischier and Blake Coleman on breakaways, and stood tall in the third period while the Bruins were outshot 15-5 and ended up tying the game. Even better Khudobin was super-competitive in the shootout where he was challenging shooters, and even stared down Hischier after he poke-checked the puck away from him on his attempt. The Bruins don’t win Wednesday night’s game without Khudobin playing the way he did, and that should pretty much guarantee that he plays again on Friday afternoon against the Penguins.

BLACK EYE: One shot and one hit in 8:28 of ice time for Jimmy Hayes in his first game against his old Bruins team, so pretty much par for the course from the underachieving big guy. Hayes has scored a couple of goals for the Devils this season, but he’s been mostly the same as in the past with sporadic scoring, intermittent tough guy play in the danger areas and then long stretches where you don’t even notice the 6-foot-6 guy out on the ice. Of the two ex-Bruins forwards going up against their old team tonight, Drew Stafford was by far the better of the two with three shots on net and at least one pretty decent scoring chance among them after stealing a puck from Frank Vatrano.

TURNING POINT: The Bruins set things up for their shootout win with a strong opening first period when it came to finishing off plays. Yes, they were outshot by a 15-10 margin, but they also made two big plays with Jake DeBrusk scoring a goal and then David Pastrnak setting up Patrice Bergeron for his fifth goal of the season. Beyond that Anton Khudobin also stopped 14 pucks in the first period that included a number of scoring chances for the Devils, and it showed what the Bruins are capable of when they’re on the right side of some key plays early in the game. Sure, the Devils clawed their way back in, but the Bruins felt like they had the game in control because of the work they put in during the first period.

HONORABLE MENTION: Charlie McAvoy led all skaters with a game-high 27:04 of ice time, and played a strong game while totaling three shots on net and three blocked shots. But he saved the real good stuff for the 11th round of the shootout when he threw a nifty stick move at Cory Schneider, and then roofed a backhanded attempt in tight and close to the net. The McAvoy shootout move begged the question why it took so long to get to him, but also mercifully closed out a shootout session that felt like it could have gone on forever between the Bruins and Devils. The finishing move from the 19-year-old was pure, unadulterated skill with the puck.

BY THE NUMBERS: 1 – the first NHL career point for Matt Grzelcyk arrived in the first period when he picked up an assist on a lead pass off the boards that freed Jake DeBrusk up for a goal-scoring rush.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “It’s the end of a road trip, so give the guys credit. They dug down deep and found a way to get the two points.” – Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy,  

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Bruins outlast Devils in 11-round shootout

Bruins outlast Devils in 11-round shootout

NEWARK, N.J. -- By his own admission, Charlie McAvoy does not have a bag of tricks that he can use in the shootout.

And the Boston Bruins may hope it stays that way.

"I can't say I was expecting that," Patrice Bergeron said of McAvoy's backhand goal scored in the 11th round of the shootout to lift the Boston Bruins to a 3-2 win over the New Jersey Devils on Wednesday night.

The goal was McAvoy's first ever in the shootout at the NHL level. Prior to this game, the Bruins had only been in one shootout this season.

"He's so skilled and it's hard on goalies, especially when they don't know the tendencies of the player they're facing," Bergeron said. "It was a great move and I was relieved that it was over with."

That the game reached the shootout was due in large part to Anton Khudobin, who made 40 saves as Boston improved to 9-7-4 with its third straight win-all with Khudobin in goal.

"Hard work pays off," Khudobin said. "When guys are playing like this, blocking shots ... there will always be positive results."

Jake DeBrusk and Patrice Bergeron scored first period goals for the Bruins.

The Bruins weren't the only team who left feeling good about their performance. Even though New Jersey has dropped three of its last five in falling to 12-5-4, collectively the Devils felt they deserved a better outcome.

"I thought we deserved a better outcome," New Jersey coach John Hynes said.

Jesper Bratt and Brian Gibbons scored for the Devils, and Cory Schneider made 27 saves.

The shootout opened with Hall and David Pastrnak trading goals. And it stayed that way until McAvoy's game-winner.

"(Schneider) was challenging," McAvoy said. "I thought maybe if he was out far I could try and pull it by him."

Prior to the extra period, the first of three regular season meetings between the longtime Eastern Conference rivals was essentially a special teams affair.

Despite not scoring on their four power plays and surrendering a man advantage goal to the Devils, it was the Bruins who left with two points thanks to two first period even strength strikes and the play of their ostensible backup goaltender.

The Bruins struck first when rookie left winger DeBrusk opened the scoring with his fifth of the season with a shot from the right circle at 1:25. And Bergeron added to Boston's lead with his fifth of the season at 11:02.

"Give Boston credit," Hynes said. "They came out hard. Unfortunately for us we made a couple mistakes early and they (scored) on (them)."

The Bruins had a two-goal lead and Khudobin, who made his third straight start, tried to make it hold up with a pad save on a Nico Hischier break-in with and a diving stop on Travis Zajac in a span of 1:13. But there was nothing he could do on Bratt's power play goal with 2:50 left as New Jersey's rookie right winger lifted a loose puck in the slot to halve the deficit while Brian Boyle was tied up with Zdeno Chara in front of Khudobin. A video review upheld the goal.

The game remained 2-1 until the Devils equalized on Gibbons' top-of-the-crease deflection with 4:44 left in regulation. Up to that point, though, Khudobin was the story as the netminder stopped a Blake Coleman shorthanded attempt with 10:35 left in the second. Khudobin also benefitted from Hischier, the first overall pick in last June's NHL draft, losing control of the puck alongside the goal line late in the period. Midway through the third, Khudobin stoned Hischier from the top of the crease.

"He's been playing great hockey," McAvoy said of Khudobin. "He gave us a chance tonight when they were putting the pressure on."

The Devils outshot the Bruins, 42-29.

NOTES: Prior to the game, New Jersey announced RW Kyle Palmieri would miss 4-6 weeks with a broken right foot, suffered in the Devils' 4-3 overtime win in Minnesota Monday. The team later announced Palmieri had been placed on the injured reserve retroactive to Monday. .New Jersey scratched D Dalton Prout and RW Stefan Noesen. .Bruins C Ryan Spooner dressed for the first time since suffering a torn right adductor on Oct. 15. .Boston scratched LW Matt Beleskey, D Torey Krug and D Paul Postma. ...The Bruins did not have LW Anders Bjork (undisclosed), LW Brad Marchand (upper body injury), RW David Backes (colon surgery) and D Adam McQuaid (broken right fibula). ... Boston announced RW Jordan Szwarz had been sent down to AHL Providence. ...The Devils announced Friday's home game against Vancouver will coincide with the team hosting the NHL and NHLPA "joint initiative Hockey Fights Cancer" as part of the "annual Cancer Awareness Month."

UP NEXT

Bruins: Host Pittsburgh Friday afternoon.

Devils: Host Vancouver Friday night.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE