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.”
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.
“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.
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