Bruins

Could David Backes be the answer to the season-long question on the Krejci Line?

bruins_david_backes_031517.jpg
File Photo

Could David Backes be the answer to the season-long question on the Krejci Line?

BOSTON – If the first performance on Saturday night against the Sabres is any indication, the Bruins might just have an answer to their season-long second line vacancy that’s been there all along.

Veteran Bruins power forward David Backes jumped into the right wing spot with David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk for the first time this season, and responded in a big way with the game-winning goal in a 2-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres at TD Garden.

It wasn’t just the goal, of course, but that was most definitely a beauty.

“[I’m just] trying to do my part. I think we’ve found our role a little bit and each guy trying to do their part fits together pretty well,” said Backes, who has four goals and 11 points in 34 games this season after an extremely slow start. “Obviously we got the goal, but if I’m going to be self-critical, I think there are pucks against the wall, o-zone possessions, maybe a little bit better plays, make a few more plays and get pucks out of our zone.

“The goal they scored is kind of a result of a bad change by our line and you know, myself included – probably as a right wing I have to hold there but I’ll own that and we get the two points as a team. Two points aren’t easy to get in this league and we found a way.”

MORE BRUINS

In the second period Tuukka Rask kicked out a long rebound that earned him an assist, and definitely appeared to direct it toward Backes as he rushed down the wing, and then snapped off a top shelf wrist shot to the glove hand past Sabres goalie Linus Ullmark. The Backes score eventually stood as the game-winner after Buffalo scratched for a goal in the third period, but it was more than simply powering a clutch goal.

It was the five shots on net, the strong play around the front of the net and the traditional power forward game that seems to mesh so well with Krejci’s playmaking style. By all rights a player like Backes should work with Krejci and with a young power forward-type like DeBrusk, but it hasn’t in the past few seasons.

Now it’s time to give Backes another shot after the Bruins rotated through young guys like Ryan Donato, Danton Heinen and Anders Bjork with unsatisfying results, and hope that he can keep up his skating legs and his hungry offensive game at 34 years old. On paper at least, the Bruins are looking for exactly the type of player that Backes has been in the past, albeit with a few years and games played shaved off the resume.

“He goes to the net for that group. It’s hard to say in one game. He played with Krech [David Krejci] before now, it’s been probably at least a year or a year and a half, so we’ll see how it plays out. It’s a bit of a different style of line than the [Sean] Kuraly, kind of [Chris] Wagner line he was on, or even [Colby] Cave and [Ryan] Donato,” said Bruce Cassidy. “He’s been moved around, so we’ll have to get used to a little more of a line-rush situation where Krech will want the puck in the neutral zone as opposed to dumping it behind their ‘D’. So, if we stick with it then that’s something he’ll have to adjust.”

But the bottom line is that Backes is being paid to be a top-6 forward and has been a 20-goal scorer in the league before, so he has the kind of resume that deserves a shot before the Bruins reach outside the organization for a trade.

MORE BRUINS

“He knows if he goes up in the lineup that that’s more of an opportunity to score, and he wants to score. He’s scored in this league. He’s not [David] Pastrnak, but he’s a fifteen to twenty – whatever you want to paint him as in – and fifteen to twenty-five, somewhere in there, throughout his career. What was it last year? Seventeen?” said Cassidy. “So, he’s behind the pace, but if he gets the chance to play a little more, their power play comes around a little more, then maybe he can butt up against that number this year if he gets hot and stays in that role. But that remains to be seen, but I’m sure he’s excited about it, to see a few more pucks in that scoring area.”

Certainly Backes may not be able to keep up the pace once the games played and schedule begin to get challenging. He was coming off a three-game suspension served for a check to the head, and is as fresh as a player is going to get in the middle of the season aside from the bye week and the NHL All-Star break.

So there’s a very good chance Backes won’t be up to the task once there’s a bit more of a sample size to take a look at the fit. But it makes all the sense in the world for the Bruins to at least take a look at Backes in that spot after playing musical wingers on the second line for the first half of the season. Maybe, just maybe, they might luck into a solution that will take one less thing off their checklist of team improvements in the second half of the season for a Bruins team poised for another playoff run this spring. 

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Bruins-Panthers Review: Boston responds after five-game losing streak

jaroslav_halak_celebrates_121419.jpg
USA TODAY Sports Photo

Bruins-Panthers Review: Boston responds after five-game losing streak

Here’s what we learned in the Bruins' 4-2 win over the Florida Panthers at the BB&T Center on Saturday night.

• The Bruins' response to their losing streak was impressive. Bruce Cassidy called out the second and third lines for not really doing much during the five-game skid, and he had the numbers to back it all up.

That changed against the Panthers as forwards like Jake DeBrusk and David Krejci not only got on the score sheet, but they also were engaged, fighting for pucks and winning battles along the boards. DeBrusk and Krejci each set the other one up for five-on-five goals in the first couple of periods and Danton Heinen had seven shot attempts in 13:32 of ice time while playing a very active, noticeable game.

Certainly the goals and the offense were nice, but it as much about the competitiveness and the urgency as it was about the actual point production. But there’s no coincidence that Krejci got on the scoresheet and the B’s snapped their losing streak. Those two things are very much intertwined to Boston’s success.

LIVE stream the Celtics all season and get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App.

• David Pastrnak isn’t going to break Phil Esposito’s Bruins goal-scoring record for a single season. It was nice while it lasted and it looks like it’s going to be a lay-up for Pastrnak to have 30 goals scored by the time Christmas break rolls around for the NHL, but he still isn’t back to a 70-goal pace even after tallying two more goals in Saturday night’s win over the Panthers.

Pastrnak is still on pace for 68 goals this season and leads the NHL by a wide margin (he’s got a five goal lead over Jack Eichel), but even a slump for a handful of games is enough to make a 70-goal season more pipe dream than possibility. And it would appear that’s already happened for Pastrnak, so Bruins fans will have to settle for daydreaming about a possible 60-goal season when it comes to their young scoring superstar.

The 76-goal record for Espo seems like it’s going to be safe again this year and it’s going to take something ridiculous for anybody in a Bruins uniform to ever get that many again.

• The Bruins won’t have any extended losing streaks that will take them out of the top spot in the Atlantic Division. These past couple of weeks was the perfect example of this with the Bruins losing five games in a row, the longest losing streak of the Bruce Cassidy era coaching the Bruins.

The last four of those defeats were of the regulation variety, so it was most definitely a notable low point for the year. But between Jaroslav Halak’s strong 31-save effort between the pipes and the Bruins' return to defensive basics against the Panthers, there is only so long that the Bruins are going to lose games barring unforeseen crazy injuries to key players like Zdeno Chara and Brandon Carlo.

Certainly, the Bruins finally paid the piper for some slack in their game over the last several weeks, and they also ran into a number of very good teams in a short proximity with the losses to Colorado, Washington and Tampa Bay all within a week’s time. But the Bruins have the goaltending, they have the defense, they have Pastrnak always on the verge of a two-goal explosion and they have good enough complementary players that they’ll be able to score against lesser defensive teams like Florida even when their top guns are silenced from time to time.

Perhaps the most disheartening part for every other team in the Atlantic Division? The other teams really didn’t make up any discernible ground despite Boston’s extended slump, with Buffalo still a distant nine points behind the Bruins, and every other team still 12 points or more back in the standings.

For that to be the case after a five-game losing streak for the B’s tells you that the division truly is over and wrapped up, and perhaps that played into some of the malaise we saw from the B’s players during the two-week slump.

Plus

*David Krejci finished with a goal, two points and a plus-2 rating in 16:20 of ice time after not lodging a single point in the Bruins' five-game losing streak. He was creative, playing with plenty of energy and really drove the second line to their best game in weeks.

*Jake DeBrusk similarly played with a very high motor and was far more than a one-dimensional winger who not only scored a goal and had two points, but won battles along the boards, blocked a couple of shots and made himself a factor all over the ice.

*Jaroslav Halak made 31 saves for the Bruins and was rock-solid aside from one bad goal allowed to Keith Yandle that made it a 3-2 hockey game in the third period. But Halak stood tall after that with the game on the line and earned the victory while showing once again that the B’s can rely on elite goaltending all year.

Minus

*Jonathan Huberdeau had no shots on net, three giveaways and was on ice for a pair of goals against in 21-plus minute of ice time, and wasn’t able to match the high level of play that Boston’s top-6 forwards brought to the table.

*One hit, no shots on net and a minus-1 in 11:43 of ice time for Noel Acciari, who wasn’t playing with physicality, energy or anything noteworthy against his old Bruins teammates. He also lost 10-of-17 faceoffs.

*For a guy who was scratched for a couple of games, David Backes didn’t play with the kind of energy one might have expected when he was pushed back into the lineup for Brett Ritchie. One shot on net, one hit, 0-for-1 on faceoffs in 9:09 of ice time in a very eventless game for him. 

 

Talking Points: Krejci, DeBrusk answer the bell in Bruins' win over Panthers

bruins.jpg
USA TODAY Sports Images

Talking Points: Krejci, DeBrusk answer the bell in Bruins' win over Panthers

Here are my talking points from tonight's 4-2 Bruins win in South Florida . . .

GOLD STAR: David Krejci didn’t have a single point during the five-game losing streak. But on Saturday night he stepped up and, lo and behold, the Bruins took home two points. It was Krejci helped kick-start the transition game for Jake DeBrusk’s goal in the first period, and then scored one of his own in the second on a strike from the top of the faceoff circle. Krejci finished with a goal and two points and a plus-2 rating in 16:20 of ice time. He also had five shot attempts and won 9-of-14 faceoffs in a game where the second line providence plenty of offense and pressure. Bruce Cassidy slipped Charlie Coyle up to second-line right wing with Krejci and DeBrusk at the outset of the game, and it seemed to work well for the Black and Gold.

BLACK EYE: Jonathan Huberdeau is having a very good season for the Panthers, but he wasn’t able to bring out his “A” game for Florida against the Bruins. Huberdeau didn’t get a single shot on net in the 21:25 of ice time that he played. He finished with three giveaways and a minus-1 against the Bruins. He was part of the line set to contain the Krejci line, but instead allowed them to march right up the ice on DeBrusk’s first period scoring play. Huberdeau was also on ice in the third, when Florida coach Joel Quenneville pulled the goalie with more than two minutes to go, only for David Pastrnak to quickly notch an empty-netter that sealed the game. Not a good night for a very good player.

TURNING POINT: The Bruins weathered the storm in the third when the Panthers came hard after them and carved out a couple of goals to cut the lead to 3-2. Considering that the Bruins blew a 4-0 third period lead against the Panthers at home just a month ago, there was certainly some nervous, anxious moments, with the Bruins looking like they’d blow a three-goal lead in the third period this time. But the B’s stiffened after Jaro Halak gave up a soft goal on a Keith Yandle point shot to make it a one-goal game. They didn’t allow Florida to take advantage of any other breakdowns. Instead the B’s hung in there, patiently waiting until the Florida net opened up the winning scoring chance for them.

HONORABLE MENTION: Jake DeBrusk was at the heart of some of the criticism from Bruce Cassidy after the loss in Tampa when the second and third lines weren’t getting much of anything done. DeBrusk was also one of the players that responded in a big way this weekend by scoring the game’s first goal, a pretty nifty dangle through Florida defenders before beating Sergei Bobrovsky in tight close to the net. DeBrusk also fed David Krejci for his second period goal, finishing with five shot attempts and a couple blocked shots in 15:38 of ice time while posting a plus-2 rating. Perhaps just as important, DeBrusk was winning 50/50 battles for the puck and playing a competitive brand of hockey rather than doing fly-bys in a lot of areas while hunting the puck. If DeBrusk played with the same kind of speed, skill and tenacity on more nights, he’d be a difference-maker for the Bruins more often.

BY THE NUMBERS: 28 – The number of goals for David Pastrnak after collecting two scores against the Panthers, and putting himself in a position where he’s easily going to have 30 goals before the Christmas break.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “I thought we did a really good job. Every line played well. We moved some guys around, but right up and down the lineup all 12 forwards, 6 [defensemen] and Jaroslav Halak were all really good.” –Bruce Cassidy to NESN when asked his assessment of the win that snapped the longest B’s losing streak (five games) since he took over as head coach.  

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.