David Backes rounding into form at a time at a perfect time for Bruins

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BRIGHTON -- It took more than a month of injuries of adjustments, but David Backes is starting to round into form at a time when the Bruins desperately need him.

The 34-year-old power forward is still a staple on the third or fourth line right now and that isn’t likely to change anytime soon. But Backes has a couple of goals and three points in the last four games after breaking through with his first goal a couple of weekends ago, and has 14 shots on net over his last five games.

Some of it is about finally getting healthy after dealing with a concussion that sidelined him for the second half of October, and some of it is about a conversation Backes had with assistant coach Joe Sacco. Backes was playing a bit passively when skating on a line with younger teammates like Anders Bjork and Danton Heinen. Backes felt he had to be the responsible one defensively, and it showed in the lack of offensive production (no points in his first 12 games of the regular season).

“I’m not going to lie. Part of it was playing with the younger guys that I wanted to be responsible," said Backes. "[I wanted] to make sure if I’m busting in there on a forecheck that we’ve got somebody as an F3 or we’d give up an odd-man rush. So you’re a little bit more cautious. [It’s also a] credit to some of the coaching staff and management with talking to them and saying ‘Hey, what can I do?’ They said on your heels is not a good way to play regardless, so [it was a message of] get on your toes and go for it.

“It wasn’t throwing caution to the wind, but it was being a lot more aggressive moving and not worrying about if there was a third man [back on defense]. It was about winning the race to the puck to give us some more O-zone time and it’s worked well the last half-dozen games or so.”

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The conscious choice to hang back defensively made Backes look like he was tentative and slowing down, and it pulled him away from his preferred area of battle right in front of the net. Those are not good things for his game. That was clear when he was back to hunting pucks against Montreal and stripped rookie Jesper Kotkaniemi at the offensive blue line before snapping one past Carey Price with a wrist shot.

That snapped the season-long offensive cold streak after an apparent goal the game before had been wiped out by goalie interference video review, and it’s got Backes back helping this with a defined spot in the lineup.

“I’m feeling like I’ve got my legs back and that I’m moving around a lot better, and I’m having an impact on the game," he said. "Obviously scoring in Montreal and assisting on the game-winner and drawing a couple of penalties, so I’m around the puck. Those are all good signs that my game is headed in the right direction. There’s some chemistry developing with [Chris Wagner] and whoever else is in there whether it’s [Sean] Kuraly, [Colby] Cave or [Joakim] Nordstrom.

“I think we’re starting to find the straight-line, grind-it-out game in the second quarter of the season where guys are no longer sprinting out of the gate. You can grind it down on them. They might be out there looking for the easy play and we’re going to make them pay for it.”

A steadier dose of power-play time has been beneficial for Backes as well, after he slid into Patrice Bergeron’s bumper role on the top PP unit. He’s helping the B’s win offensive zone faceoffs and retrieve pucks to maintain possession, and the feeling is that his battle in front of the net is eventually going to lead to some goals as well.

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“I think Backes is a guy that has always preferred consistency with his linemates, and when he was on the third line there was a lot going on for different reasons," said coach Bruce Cassidy. "I think being on the power play has helped. He’s there to win faceoffs and recover pucks and he’s done that. He hasn’t buried one there yet, but he’s been part of an effective power play. I just think it helps his psyche. He’s been in the league a long time and he’s a proud guy. He wants to do his part in some way, shape or form. I think at the start of the year he didn’t feel like he fit in, and part of that is on us to give him more of a defined role.

“It’s worked out better. We all want more and he’d probably say the same thing. But I think that’s probably why he [looks] a lot more relaxed now.”

That’s clearly been the case over the last few weeks, and it’s finally allowing Backes to chip in offensively.

Backes still isn’t likely to return to his 20 goals/50 points level with the Blues, not as an aging power forward with the Bruins, and some will always grumble about the $6 million salary he’s being paid each season. But the Bruins in their weakened roster state need players like Backes to step into the breach and keep the team afloat while the injured players return, and the big power forward has been doing just that over the last few weeks.

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