Bruins

David Backes plans on going 'balls to the wall' to hold on to NHL spot with Bruins

David Backes plans on going 'balls to the wall' to hold on to NHL spot with Bruins

BRIGHTON, Mass – David Backes enters into Bruins training camp this season with the highest level of uncertainty since he signed on with the Black and Gold more than three years ago.

The 35-year-old produced career lows with his seven goals and 20 points in 70 games and then was a healthy scratch for the final three games of the Stanley Cup Final against his old St. Louis Blues team after some good moments in Boston’s postseason run. There was speculation he could be bought out of the final two years of his contract this summer and certainly, the Bruins would have traded Backes and his contract if they could have made it work.

There were also questions about Backes’ health after the Bruins made mention of a nagging issue this summer that was never fully explained, and led to questions as to whether he’d even be healthy for camp.

Still, Backes was never asked to waive his limited no-trade protection and No. 42 is here at camp and on the ice banging bodies and working his way through drills. It’s exactly what the B’s power forward intends to do while facing some stiff competition at right wing with Brett Ritchie brought in to basically fill the same NHL job description.

“[The offseason workout program] was as intense as it’s ever been. I’m looking forward to going out there and playing hockey this year,” said Backes, who has skated on the right wing with Sean Kuraly and Anton Blidh in the first two days of camp. “I channeled some of [last season’s frustration], I festered some of it away and let it motivate me and I can focus some on what I can do as an athlete having a great summer so I can do what I do best, which is to play the game.

“I don’t worry about other decisions that I don’t get to make and that are out of my control. What’s in my control is each shift, each play and each moment. That’s what I’m going to focus on all year. That moment and that drill will be my focus, and decisions out of my control will be made. It’s balls to the wall starting with the first drill of practice and I’m going to give it everything I’ve got until they tell that I’m done playing. That’s the way I’ve always been.”

So, what might happen to Backes?

He certainly could wind up in the AHL with Providence if he’s caught in a numbers game in Boston and shows that he simply can’t keep up with the pace of the NHL game anymore. There were moments where that seemed to be the case last season, but Backes will get a chance to show he can still play and further fill his role late last season when he dropped the gloves a little more often to protect his teammates.

That’s essentially what Bruce Cassidy wants to see out of Backes in camp, and it may be enough to keep him up with Boston given his leadership, toughness and the wide respect he garners in the dressing room.

“We had a conversation over the summer, a little bit [about] how the year ended. I don’t think we wanted to do it two days after Game 7. I think we were all a little bit raw for obvious reasons. We talked a little bit about my decision,” said Cassidy. “I thought [Karson Kuhlman] added a little more pep to our game and a different element than David, right or wrong. We revisited a little bit of what he could do to stay in the lineup this year and what’s ahead.

“It’s hard to predict what’s ahead. [Par] Lindholm and Brett Ritchie, they’re going to compete. Ritchie happens to play the same position as Backes. We’ll see what kind of advances Kuhlman has made. So, the message to David was ‘there’s competition on that side of the ice, but if he gets back to the level we feel he can get to, then he’ll have a spot.’ How much ice he gets from there? That’s going to depend on the growth of some players and the chemistry involved.”

There’s a great deal of unknown with Backes at this point based on the new faces he’s competing with and based on exactly what he can show at 35 at this stage of his career. It’s certainly not his fault that he’s taking up a $6 million salary-cap hit on a team that’s scraping for space to sign Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo.

What is up to Backes is his willingness to do whatever it takes to hold on to his NHL gig with a 6-foot-3, 215-pound body that’s starting to show signs of age and wear after nearly 1,000 games in an excellent career in St. Louis and Boston.

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NHL Power Rankings: Big shakeup in the Top 10 this week

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NBC Sports Boston Illustration

NHL Power Rankings: Big shakeup in the Top 10 this week

Sure, the NHL's Stanley Cup Playoffs are months away, but it's never too soon to look ahead, right?

The competition for playoff positioning in the Eastern Conference could be tight, as several teams have surged forward recently, including the Flyers, Panthers and Canadiens — all of which missed the playoffs a season ago.

The picture is also crowded out West, where not many teams have started to separate from the pack as of yet.

How are the Bruins stacking up after a four-game losing streak? And which teams are making leaps forward?

Click here for Joe Haggerty's NHL Power Rankings.>>>>>>

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David Pastrnak should be a lock in Bruins' shootout lineup going forward

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USA TODAY Sports

David Pastrnak should be a lock in Bruins' shootout lineup going forward

The shootout is a problem for the Boston Bruins, and already this season it has cost them three points. Now, that might not sound like a lot, but in a very competitive Atlantic Division that's shaping up to include five playoff-caliber teams, those points are quite valuable.

The Bruins blew a four-goal third-period lead Tuesday night and ultimately lost 5-4 in a shootout to the Florida Panthers at TD Garden. Charlie Coyle extended the shootout with a third-round goal, but it's Boston's only tally in 11 shootout attempts this season. Only three of the 26 teams that have taken part in at least one shootout have a worst shooting percentage than Boston. 

Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy's shootout lineup was a real head-scratcher. Here's a look at the skaters chosen:

Chris Wagner: No goal
Brad Marchand: No goal
Charlie Coyle: Goal
Charlie McAvoy: No goal

The lack of speed and creativity with the puck made Panthers goalie Sam Montembeault's job too easy. Take a look for yourself in the highlights below:

The most curious absence from the above list is David Pastrnak, who leads the league with 16 goals and is tied for second place in scoring with 31 points. Pastrnak is just 3-for-19 in shootouts for his career, but despite this lack of success, he absolutely should be one of the first two shooters in this format, especially when the opposing team has its backup goalie in net, as was the case Wednesday night. The most talented players should be on the ice with the game on the line, and Pastrnak is without question the B's most skilled offensive player. 

Cassidy explained after why Pastrnak wasn't involved in his team's latest shootout loss.

"(Bruins goalie coach) Bob (Essensa) has information on that," Cassidy told reporters. "One thing Bob suggested -- we were going to use Wagner. There was maybe more shooters than dekers against this goalie coming in, but Charlie (Coyle) scored in the shootout shooting. You know, we put Coyle in and recommended shooting. Pasta tends to like to deke, so that’s why we went away from him. He’s been a little bit cold lately in the shootout, so give some other guys an opportunity that we feel can finish. Charlie McAvoy definitely has but didn’t happen."

Pastrnak has shot in two of the three shootouts this season. Jake DeBrusk has taken part in only one. David Krejci didn't shoot in the one game he's played in that ended with a shootout. Patrice Bergeron has zero shootout attempts despite scoring 70 goals over his last 147 games. Bergeron's nine shootout goals are tied for the team lead with Marchand since the beginning of 2012-13. Even defenseman Zdeno Chara deserves a look in the shootout with his powerful slap shot.

Let's be clear: shootouts aren't a new problem for the Bruins.

They actually ranked as the third-best shootout team during the 2011-12 season with 19 goals on 38 attempts, but it's been all downhill since then. The Bruins are dead last in the league with a 20.7 shooting percentage (49-for-237) in shootouts over the last eight seasons, including the current campaign.

We can complain all day about the shootout and say it's a gimmick, and that might be true, but the fact remains it's a very important part of today's NHL. The Bruins' lack of success in the shootout won't hurt them in the Stanley Cup playoffs, but it could end up costing them the most desirable seed if the current trend isn't reversed soon. Consistently putting the most skilled offensive players on the ice would be a good way to remedy the situation.

Joe Haggerty: The root causes of this alarming Bruins skid>>>

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