By Matt Dolloff, 985thesportshub.com
David Backes may be getting paid like a top-six forward, but even as a third-line winger he brings more value to the Bruins than you can quantify. He showed that value all over the ice during the Bruins’ 6-1 win over the Coyotes on Thursday – and with his new linemates Riley Nash and Danton Heinen, the B’s appear to have found a keeper of a combination.
The Heinen-Nash-Backes line controlled the action most of the time they were on the ice. They consistently won puck battles on defense, moved the puck up quickly on offense, and were rewarded for their efforts with three goals – two for Backes, one for Heinen.
Head coach Bruce Cassidy was pleased with the results of the line, which was meant to be a combo of scoring and physicality with dependable all-around skills.
“So, you throw them all in there and you’ve got, with a little bit of physicality, guys that can win a faceoff – two of them – if you’re stuck all three play the penalty kill, two of them are on the power play, so you’ve got an element of both. So that’s the reasoning and it’s working,” said Cassidy, “which is great because the third line was a question mark this year and at least in the short term we’ve solved that problem.”
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Cassidy was also particularly happy for Backes, who scored his first two goals of an injury-plagued nine-game season.
“It’s been a while coming for David,” said Cassidy. “Played some games, we played him some games to prepare him for his surgery, which was completely weird, and then he comes back and played some good games but didn’t get rewarded. So for him I think it was important and he’s a well-liked guy in the room.”
Though Nash centered the third line, Cassidy credited right winger Backes as the “identity” of the line and the player being built around in the combination.
A relieved Backes likes the way his line battled for pucks and fought to get their scoring chances, which is his vision for the group’s playing style.
“I kind of knew the dam was going to break here eventually,” said Backes. “Overall it felt like we spent a lot of time in the O-zone, pucks back to the point, getting some traffic in front and we were able to create some turnovers too and create some forecheck goals. That’s a good identity especially for our line to have, and to continue shift-by-shift to provide that spark, provide that pressure on the other teams.
“And even if we don’t score hopefully we tire somebody out for the next line to come out and capitalize on it and that sort of mentality will carry us a long way.”
Backes’ line wasn’t just great in its own right – they accomplished Backes’ goal of sparking the other lines. Brad Marchand lauded his teammate for the lift he provides both on and off the ice.
“Yeah, he’s a huge leader for our team,” Marchand said of Backes. “He steps up all over the place – in the room, on the ice, on the bench. He’s a big void when he’s … not playing. So we’re very lucky to have him back, he stepped up big tonight and you know, really turned that game around for us.”
Nash likes the way that Backes’ commanding leadership style keeps everyone on the same page and complements his more reserved style.
“I don’t know, [Backes] is a pretty vocal guy on the ice so that definitely helps me,” said Nash. “You know, it’s not my natural personality to be loud and boisterous on the ice, but I’ve been trying to adopt that into my game.”
Heinen has been able to balance his scoring (five goals, 14 points in 22 games) with doing the proverbial Little Things™ well. He credited his linemates with making it easier for him to play a sound 200-foot game.
“Yeah, it’s been good so far, you know, they’re two smart players and Backs creates a lot out there,” said Heinen. “He talks a lot, so it’s easy to play with him and Nasher keeps it simple and good defensively and it’s going pretty well so far.”
Backes’ dominating presence made an immediate impression on the Bruins locker room upon his return, and cannot be ignored as a factor in how well the team has played overall in what was supposed to be a tough stretch of the season. His line could be a major factor for the Bruins now that Cassidy has found a combo that works – and it all revolves around No. 42.
Matt Dolloff is a writer/producer for 985thesportshub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.