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.
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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.