Peter Cehlarik’s latest big chance to show that he can be an NHL contributor has come with a price.
And its name is David Backes, the Bruins’ $6 million man on the right side, who will sit as a healthy scratch for the first time since joining the Bruins in 2016.
“Worst thing as a coach, I’ve always found, is telling players they’re not in the lineup, telling players they’re going down to the minors,” Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said after Wednesday’s optional skate in Philadelphia. “This is one of the more difficult ones. He’s a guy that’s been a captain in the National Hockey League, a real good soldier, a good player for a long time in this league. But honesty I still believe is the best policy.”
The decision to scratch Backes is a shocking move, at least considering the 34-year-old’s price tag, but it becomes anything but when you dive into the roster makeup of a B’s group that’s won six of their last eight games (6-1-1). You’re not breaking up the superhuman Bergeron line to fit Backes in on the right, you’re not slowing down the third line with Backes, and the Black and Gold’s banger line with Noel Acciari between Sean Kuraly and Chris Wagner has finally found its groove.
Something Backes, who has totaled four goals and 12 points in 38 games this season, acknowledged after a lengthy skate at the Wells Fargo Center.
“[Patrice Bergeron’s] line is one of the best in hockey. You’ve got Noel’s line that’s really come a long way and has been an important factor in us winning games, especially in the last little while,” Backes, who most recently skated with Jake DeBrusk and David Krejci with extremely limited success, said. “The kids seem to have found something together [on line three]. And then I was trying to fit with Krech and JD and it wasn’t phenomenal by any means and they’re gonna try Peter there. You start doing some simple math, and a bag skate and a little bit of a reset was in the cards and here we are.”
Backes will be joined in the press box by fellow healthy scratches John Moore and Steven Kampfer.
The Bruins will give the start to Jaroslav Halak. The veteran Slovak has hit a wall in recent weeks, with at least three goals allowed in three straight starts (1-2-0 with an .878 save percentage), but was phenomenal in his lone prior start against the Flyers this season, with stops on all 26 shots thrown his way in a 3-0 win over Oct. 25.
Philadelphia counters with rookie Carter Hart. The 20-year-old stopped 34-of-38 in a 7-4 win over the Minnesota Wild on Monday, and has wins in four of his 10 decisions this year, with a .914 save percentage and 2.70 goals against average.
Here are the complete lines and pairings for the Bruins…
Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – David Pastrnak
Peter Cehlarik – David Krejci – Jake DeBrusk
Danton Heinen – Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson – Ryan Donato
Sean Kuraly – Noel Acciari – Chris Wagner
Zdeno Chara – Charlie McAvoy
Torey Krug – Brandon Carlo
Matt Grzelcyk – Kevan Miller