David Backes

Could Cehlarik be answer to Bruins' top-6 problem?

Could Cehlarik be answer to Bruins' top-6 problem?

BOSTON – It’s important to keep in mind that it’s just two games into the experiment, but maybe, just maybe, rookie Peter Cehlarik is the answer to Boston’s season-long question of who can suitably play on David Krejci’s wing.

The strapping winger, 23, had himself another strong game Thursday night in a 5-2 win over the St. Louis Blues with an assist and a number of strong, detail-oriented plays that led to good things happening for Cehlarik, Krejci and Jake DeBrusk. 

Certainly, the secondary assist on the first goal was good for the stat sheet, but it was his winning a battle along the boards in the second period that led to David Backes’ tying goal. He didn’t get any points out of it as both Krejci and Zdeno Chara touched the puck before Backes tipped it home while battling in front of the net, but none of that happens without the 6-foot-2 Cehlarik throwing his weight around.

It’s the size and strength as a power forward that really separates him as a prospect from Ryan Donato, Anders Bjork and Danton Heinen, and it’s those same qualities that really make him a suitable fit for Krejci’s playmaking style. Combine that with the skill to put together a two-goal game as he did in his season debut Wednesday night in Philly, and the Bruins have an intriguing player to audition in the coming weeks and months as their missing top-6 winger.

“He’s done what we’ve asked and more," said Bruce Cassidy. "He finished the other night, a couple times, so we know he’s capable of offense. I just think he’s winning [battles] – even the Backes goal. It’s a 50/50 puck against a big body. He gets there first. Ties up, Krech [David Krejci] follows, and so now you’re winning puck battles. It’s a big part of hockey, to me. You can go through all of the X’s and O’s of every team and every system, but when you win puck battles, assuming you have good players, which we do, you’re going to make plays when you have it more. 

“I give him a lot of credit for that. He’s at the top of the crease when that shot comes from Zee [Zdeno Chara]. We’ve been trying to instill some of those habits into some of our younger guys for a long time, to get there and stay there.

“He’s a bigger body and little more mature, so he can hold his ground, I guess, for a better term. Ryan Donato is trying to get there. He’s just not as strong on his skates as Peter right now, so we’re trying to encourage [Danton] Heinen when he’s in that role to get there. Jake [DeBrusk] gets there all the time with his foot speed. He’s got so much speed that sometimes he doesn’t stop there, like his tip chance.

Those are all things we’re trying to encourage. Those are power forward qualities, and [Anders] Bjork and them are not 6-3 guys, but that’s the new NHL. We’re trying to get them to hang around there as much as possible. Peter has that, scored from the top of the crease [against the Flyers] in that spot winning pucks, so he’s done a real nice job for us. It’s two games, so you try to temper it, but he’s done [well], he’s hit all those checklists, and he’s rewarding us offensively. It’s real nice to see.”

It was an interesting spot for Cehlarik on Thursday against the Blues on the second night of a back-to-back and a real challenge to his efforts at gaining consistency in the NHL. He was also head-to-head with one of the names, Brayden Schenn, that the Bruins will be in the market for at the trade deadline. Schenn wasn’t too shabby either. He led all players with seven registered hits and picked up an assist on one shift where he and Jaden Schwartz dominated Boston’s top line before setting up a Carl Gunnarsson goal.

But the deadline will play itself out more than a month from now one way or the other and Boston’s needs could change dramatically if they find an internal solution to their season-long top-6 forward problem. Cehlarik isn’t mean per se as a possible NHL power forward, but he is big, strong, offensively skilled and seems to be willing to do some of the dirty work that his fellow young B’s prospects aren’t quite able to do at this point.

Now, it’s about finding that consistency where he can contribute something every night as he’s done in each of his first two games, and help make Boston’s second line a nightly offensive threat that the Bruins will need against the good teams.

“I’ve been having fun out there. [I just want to] keep working out so I can stick around and be an NHL player,” said Cehlarik, who was actually skating the left wing with DeBrusk switching over to the right Thursday in what may become a set thing moving forward. “I’ve been feeling good. It’s a lot of fun to play with such great players, fun to play on the puck, and make good plays, and take care of our end as well. But I think we did that for the most part and [need to keep] burying the chances.

“[Doing the little things] is a huge part of it. And winning the battles is the first thing you have to do to be able to I guess stay and get the pucks and then try to make a play. If you want a puck, you have to win it.”

The Bruins have to hope that Cehlarik keeps having fun and keeps helping make the second line go after the organization ran through all kinds of options without a viable solution through the first half of the season. It’s way too early to anoint Cehlarik as another young player success story for the Bruins, but the early returns have been very good for a clearly defined need for the Black and Gold.  

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David Backes bounces back from scratch with big goal for Bruins

David Backes bounces back from scratch with big goal for Bruins

BOSTON – They say that good deeds in hockey go rewarded, and David Backes was living proof of that on Thursday night.

One day after being a healthy scratch in the B’s loss to the Flyers in Philly on Wednesday night, it was Backes scoring a goal and aiding his Bruins team in taking down his old St. Louis Blues team by a 5-2 score at TD Garden. The 34-year-old re-entered the Bruins lineup on the fourth line with Chris Wagner and Sean Kuraly, and managed to scrap for a power play goal in the second period that tied up the game for the B’s before they could win it in the third.

It was a prototypical goal for Backes with the big power forward camping out in front of the net and then tipping a Zdeno Chara point blast past Jake Allen as he was getting pushed off his spot. It was exactly the kind of goal he’s scored a million times previously in his NHL career, and exactly the kind of offense he hopes to provide now that he’s back in the lineup.

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“It’s tumultuous but it tests your character and you see how you respond to it. I think I’ve taken the right route and those types of goals that I scored tonight are what I’m used to scoring, you know, a dozen a year,” said Backes, of his fifth goal of the season for the Bruins. “If I can get back to those places, we can get pucks to the net, and there’s a dozen of those going in and I can shoot a couple more in, you know, that’s kind of the place I want to be.

“It worked tonight. Is it going to work every night? Potentially not, but if I can get to those spots, we can get pucks there, you know, the law of averages is going to work on our side eventually.”

Certainly it was an otherwise quiet night from Backes with three shot attempts in 11:25 of ice time, but the goal-scoring play was a good lesson for the young B’s players in handling a healthy scratch like a professional. It was also proof that Backes can still help the Bruins even if his minutes are scaled back as a member of the fourth line in place of Noel Acciari, a spot that be his a great deal into the foreseeable future.

“His attitude about the whole situation has been incredible. You know, [Backes] is such a great leader in that sense and such a great player for this group. To come in, have the response he did and have a big goal to get us back in the game, you know, it’s great to see,” said Brad Marchand. “That’s what makes him such a great leader. You know the attitude that he has all the time. His response that he showed tonight, [it was] great to see.”

Certainly it was a bitter pill for a proud player like Backes to sit and watch his teammates lose in Philadelphia where he might have made a difference, so the B’s power forward made sure he was the difference in the win over the Blues. That’s the exact kind of leadership they were banking on when they signed Backes to his five year deal with the Bruins, and even in his struggles this season that’s exactly what they’re getting.

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David Backes, John Moore returning to Bruins lineup for game vs. Blues

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USA Today Sports Photo

David Backes, John Moore returning to Bruins lineup for game vs. Blues

BRIGHTON -- The Bruins dropped a rough one to the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday night, blowing a two-goal lead, so there'll be some changes headed into Thursday night’s game against the St. Louis Blues.

David Backes will be back in the lineup on the fourth line after being a healthy scratch Wednesday, and John Moore will replace Matt Grzelcyk after sitting as a healthy scratch for the last few games.

Coach Bruce Cassidy said it was more about utilizing players with fresh legs in a midseason, two-games-in-two-nights situation than it was about performance issues with either Grzelcyk or Noel Acciari, whose spot is being taken by Backes.

"[Part] of the thinking is that it’s a back-to-back," said Cassidy. "You get a guy with some fresh legs in there . . . "

Certainly there’s also the issue of the Bruins sitting almost $10 million in salary in Backes and Moore, and what that signals about the free-agent signings of both players. For now it’s merely a numbers game, with Cassidy trying to get everyone playing time with the Bruins at near full health, but a consistent healthy-scratch status for either of those two high-salaried players would be problematic.

Cassidy said there's been no problem with either veteran.

“[Backes] handled it very well," said Cassidy, "very professional as he’s always been. He’s certainly not 100 percent in agreement with the decision, but we ask our players when it happens to make sure any [hard] feelings are left outside the locker room. John Moore has been terrific with that (too).

“Hopefully [Backes] has a good night for us tonight and we see what happens going forward . . . (and) we don’t want Moore sitting for too long. He’s played well too. It’s a good problem to have with good players sitting and that’s where we’re going with it.”

With the Bruins looking for a better effort against the Blues, here are the projected line combos and D-pairings vs. St. Louis with Tuukka Rask starting and the B’s staying off the ice on Thursday morning at Warrior Ice Arena:

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Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak

DeBrusk-Krejci-Cehlarik

Donato-JFK-Heinen

Wagner-Kuraly-Backes

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Chara-McAvoy

Moore-Miller

Krug-Carlo

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Rask

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