It took a season-and-a-half to get there, but David Backes is finally playing exactly like the productive, hard-nosed forward they were looking for when they signed him to a much-discussed five-year, $30 million contract a couple of summers ago.
The 33-year-old is comfortable in Boston, healthy after getting 10 inches of his colon removed due to diverticulitis in early November and has found a home playing right wing with Danton Heinen and Riley Nash on a multi-faceted, dangerous third line that’s provided key two-way support to Boston’s forward group. Backes has seven goals and 15 points in 20 games with the bulk of the offense coming after he returned a month ahead of schedule from the diverticulitis surgery, and he was named last week’s No. 3 Star in the NHL with three goals and six points in three games while his line stepped up with Boston’s best offensive players suddenly going quiet.
Backes has been finishing plays all around the net and playing the physical role that the Bruins brought him in for, and most importantly he’s brought balance up front where the B’s have other players aside from Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak doing some offensive damage. Clearly it needs to stay consistent for Backes over the course of the regular season’s remaining schedule, but it’s been reassuring to see him play like the captain and All-Star performer he was in St. Louis.
“You concentrate on the process, and the results will end up being there,” said Backes, who also added that he’s still about five pounds lighter than last season in something that’s clearly led to improved skating mobility on the ice. “What’s been the M.O. for the line that I’ve been on and on the power play, it’s been to do the right things all the time and eventually pucks are going to find you. Then when you get your opportunities, you’ve got to capitalize on them. It’s all pointing to good directions, but it’s also a credit to all the guys that I’m on the ice with.
“I think the touch has maybe found me around the net, and [when it comes to] making plays. When it’s a high volume it’s going to work out for you in the long run. Being productive is great, but being productive and winning games, especially against good teams, is a great feeling to have. Even the guys that aren’t piling up points right now are being very productive members of our team. Blocking shots, taking hits and killing penalties might not make headline news from you guys, but it means the difference between winning and losing games.”
The numbers don’t even take into account the leadership and big personality aspects of Backes adding to the Bruins dressing room, where his Alpha Male personality brings a little something different to a dressing room that had grown quiet before his addition. It’s also reflected in Backes looking to take a personal honor for himself, and instead turning it into a tribute to the dirty work being done by some of his unheralded B’s teammates.
Backes wasn’t going to completely replace the personality lost when Mark Recchi, Andrew Ference, Shawn Thornton, Johnny Boychuk and Chris Kelly departed over the course of a five-year span. His outgoing personality was a needed addition to the mix and now what Backes is doing on the ice is matching what he’s doing off it.
“I think David missed some time, so he’s hungry. They have just gelled [as a line]. They’re all good responsible players and they each have a level offensive skill to complement each other. The puck is finding [Backes] so good for him,” said Bruce Cassidy. “Now it’s not finding one of our other lines, so this is good timing for us. I think that’s what happens over the course of the year, but [Backes] has always been a consistent scorer. Good for him for getting to the dirty areas, and seeing the puck finding him there.”
It’s in these first few years where the Bruins need to get vintage seasons out of Backes with the knowledge there may some slippage in his game as he ages over the course of a long five-year deal signed when he was 32 years old. It’s finally happening for both Backes and the Bruins, and if it keeps up it’s going to make the Black and Gold all the more dangerous and difficult to stop over the second half and into the playoffs.
Backes has turned into exactly the guy the Bruins were signing up for as a big ticket free agent acquisition, and it’s part of the roster blend that’s pushing Boston up, up and up in the standings overt the last two months.