David Backes will ‘Try not to cry’ as he returns to St. Louis

The St. Louis Blues made the playoffs for 25 consecutive years leading into the lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 season, a run highlighted by stars from Bernie Federko to Brett Hull to Chris Pronger  to Al MacInnis in which the Blues did just about everything except – true to the Blues half-century existence – win a Stanley Cup.

Lean years followed coming out of the 2004-05 lockout however, beginning with the Blues missing the playoffs for the first time since 1979 in the 2005-06 season, eventually scoring the franchise’s first three-year playoff drought when St. Louis missed the postseason in 2008. The five Stanley Cup playoff DNQs in six seasons out of the infamous play stoppage was two more than the Blues had experienced in 37 seasons preceding the lockout.

David Backes was one of the key pieces to St. Louis returning to the NHL forefront from the abyss earlier this decade. Backes, who was drafted in the second round of the 2003 draft by the Blues, played a decade in St. Louis prior to signing a five-year deal with the Boston Bruins this past summer. He became a mainstay in the St. Louis lineup in 2006 and was named team captain in 2011. The Blues never missed the playoffs in the duration of his captaincy. A rugged, two-way forward, Backes developed into one of the NHL’s best 200-foot players during his time in St. Louis, while being a lock for 25-30 goals and around 60 points.

In his final season in St. Louis, the Blues came within two wins of its first Stanley Cup final appearance since 1970.

Tuesday night will be mark the first time Backes has played in St. Louis since departing for Boston, when Bruins visit the Blues.

“I’m going to try not to cry,” is what Backes told NHL.com’s Amalie Benjamin about the return. A tribute video will be played for Backes, the team announced on Tuesday.

Over 10 seasons, Backes put up 206 goals and 460 points in 727 games. His 727 games rank fifth in Blues history while his 460 points are sixth. In addition to his play on the ice, he was did a lot of work in the St. Louis community, which makes his homecoming that much more special for the Blues, the St. Louis fans, and more importantly, Backes himself.

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Added Character, Mental Toughness, Will Put Bruins Back into Playoffs

Between 2013 and ’15, the Boston Bruins funneled veteran voices out of its room, voices that were the fabric of the team winning the 2011 Stanley Cup and reaching another in 2013. The results were negative.

Guys like Shawn Thornton, Johnny Boychuk, and Andrew Ference – to offer a short list of those ushered out over that period – were loud, and more importantly resonant voices in the B’s dressing room. They spoke out, said what was needed to be said, and weren’t afraid to flip the table that had the post-game spread. Efforts to replace them were null, and the TD Garden ice has been down by mid-April the past two years because of it.

The character and mental toughness went missing along with the playoff pedigree. The Bruins weren’t a hard team to play against. The Bruins finished ninth in the Eastern Conference both years.

This season’s Bruins team doesn’t look much different than those teams. There’s talent at the top of the roster, but come up short in areas the best teams in the NHL don’t. It’s a team that looks destined to finish somewhere between seventh and 10th in the conference standings. Again, not dissimilar to the two seasons that have prior to this one.

But pencil in the Bruins as more likely to be seventh or eighth than ninth come the spring. Character, heart, and toughness – all qualities less measurable than corsi and goal differential, but still vital – have made a comeback.

The intangible spark added by the new veterans was evident in Wednesday’s 4-3 overtime loss to Washington. Going down 3-0, the Bruins claw their way back into the game, with Colin Miller tying the score with 11:41 remaining on a powerplay goal. The rally was started on a goal by one of those veteran, Dominic Moore, who has seven goals in 27 games.

Nobody stopped skating after Daniel Winnik made it 3-0 in the second while Washington eased up with the comfortable lead. Players stuck up for one another, shifts were approached like they were at a premium. Boston nearly won it in regulation before going to overtime, where Nicklas Backstrom allowed the Caps to escape with a goal 1:36 into the extra period.

Bruins moves in the offseason suggested a push to address the character issue in the room, and doing so without blowing the whole thing up.

That was none more evident with Don Sweeney prying David Backes away from St. Louis – where he’d been captain since 2011 – with a five-year, $30 million deal. A rugged forward who can play top-line minutes, the 32-year-old fit the mold of what was missing with the Bruins.

Same goes for Dominic Moore, brought in late in the summer after three years with the New York Rangers. While the Bruins were the 10th team Moore had played for since making his NHL debut in 2003, plenty of the teams he’d played for were winning ones, highlighted by the 2014 Rangers squad the won the Eastern Conference. He played in the East final in back-to-back seasons in 2010 and ’11, with Montreal followed by Tampa Bay, which fell to the Bruins in a seventh game. The former Harvard standout had been one of the better bottom-six contributors in the league, his character unquestioned.

Riley Nash was another bottom-sixer brought in with miles on his tires, he of 242 NHL contests and 188 more in the AHL since his pro debut in 2010. Also like Moore, the product of an Ivy League education, having played at Cornell.

As of Thursday, the Bruins hold a playoff spot, the B’s 32 points good enough for third in the Atlantic Division.

Backes has skated on the second line, flanked by David Krejci and Ryan Spooner. Playing 108 minutes of five-on-five together – second behind the 216 played by Patrice Bergeron-Brad Marchand-David Pastrnak – the line has a 3.87 goals-for per 60 minutes that leads the team, according to corsica. Backes has 12 points of his own through 22 games.

Moore has seven goals in 27 games while winning 54.9 percent of the 235 draws he’s taken, second on the team only behind Bergeron (58.6), and 12th in the NHL with a five-on-five faceoff percentage of 57.4, according to puckbase. Nash has taken the third-most faceoffs on the team (244), winning at a 53.3 percent rate. The two have taken 34 percent of the 559 defensive zone draws for Boston this season.

As the Bruins have learned in the past two seasons, you have to be tough to play against to win in the NHL.

This team has it.

Thoughts Are My Own: Night of Statement Wins

Thoughts after a rare Monday night of games and big wins.

*Start with the New York Rangers. Going into Pittsburgh’s building and coming out with a 5-2 win. Coming off a second loss in a row, losing Mika Zibanejad, it was all Blueshirts after a sluggish first period. We’ll see if they can keep it up.

*Who had Edmonton beating Chicago, 5-0? I’m sure even fewer had the Blackhawks being held to just three shots in the third period.

*Nice win by Nashville, topping Tampa Bay at home. The Predators are 6-2-2 in their last 10.

*Matt Tkachuk with a goal and assist while playing 15:52 in the Flames 4-2 loss to Buffalo. That’s his second multi-point game in the NHL and now has five goals and eight points in 17 games. He’s been one of Calgary’s few bright spots.

*Jake Guentzel the latest kid to splash on the scene in what has been the Year of the Kids so far in 2016. The young Penguin scored on his first career shot 1:02 into Monday’s game against the Rangers in Pittsburgh, the first of two first period goals for Guentzel in the 5-2 loss. A third round pick by the Pens in 2013, the 22-year-old forward had been a force at AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, with 17 points in 16 games this season. He had 14 points in 10 playoff games for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton last season after he went pro following his junior season at Nebraska-Omaha, where he led the Mavericks to a Frozen Four appearance in 2015 as a sophomore.

*Latest on the Craig Cunningham front. Nothing new but Bob McKenzie had a great piece on Cunningham, his journey to the NHL, and the relationship he holds with his mother, his lifelong friends, and his current peers. McKenzie writes Cunningham is ‘literally battling for his life.’

Game to Watch Tuesday Night

St. Louis at Boston: David Backes faces the team he captained for five years before leaving the Blues for a five-year, $30 million deal with the Bruins in free agency this past summer.

Hat Trick Pick

Victor Rask: The Hurricanes leading scorer has four goals in his last five games, and eight overall this season.

Bruins Face Canadiens for First Time, Scott Stevens Returns to New Jersey, Brian Elliot Faces Blues

Quite a bit to watch on Saturday night as 12 NHL games are being played, including the first game between Boston and Montreal, Flames goaltender Brian Elliot facing the Blues, who traded him over the offseason. Zach Parise and Scott Stevens will make their returns to New Jersey as the Wild face the Devils; Parise, of course, as a player, and Stevens as an assistant coach to Bruce Boudreau.

Here’s the games being played: Toronto at Chicago, 7; N.Y. Rangers at Washington, 7; Montreal at Boston, 7; Carolina at Philadelphia, 7; Tampa Bay at Ottawa, 7; Colorado at Florida, 7; San Jose at Detroit, 7; Minnesota at New Jersey, 7; Pittsburgh at Nashville, 8; Columbus at Dallas, 8; Vancouver at Los Angeles, 10; St. Louis at Calgary, 10.

Players to Watch

Chicago: Richard Panik; Don’t look now but Panik is leading the Hawks with five goals in five games. Patrick who?

Toronto: James van Reimsdyk; Will not be playing against his brother, Trevor, as its being reported the younger van Reimsdyk will miss 5-6 weeks with an upper-body injury, as it’s being reported by Scott Powers of The Athletic. The two have played each other just once.

N.Y. Rangers: Mike Zibanejad; Off to a nice start with five points in four games.

Washington: Zach Sanford; The rookie expected to play Saturday after being out of the lineup on Thursday. Will face fellow ex-BC big forward Chris Kreider for the first time.

Montreal: Tomas Plekanec; The 33-year-old center seems to like playing the Bruins, his 46 points against the archrival is the most he’s scored against any NHL opponent.

Boston: David Backes; First game in the rivalry. In 11 games against Montreal, he has four goals and eight points.

Carolina: Victor Rask; The Swedish center leads the Hurricanes with five goals in four games. He had 48 last season, up from 33 his rookie season.

Philadelphia: Pierre-Edouard Bellemare; The French centerman is leading the Flyers with a 54 percent faceoff percentage. He’s won 24 of 44 draws.

Tampa Bay: Ben Bishop; The Lightning netminder played 23 games in Ottawa from 2011-13 before being traded to Tampa, where his career has since blossomed. He is 117-53-17 since that deal, with a .921 save percentage and 2.26 GAA. Bishop has twice finished in the top three of the Vezina Trophy voting in a Lightning uniform.

Ottawa: Guy Boucher; Yeah, yeah, I know. He’s a coach. But the Senators first-year bench boss spent three seasons as the head man in Tampa Bay, going 97-79-20. He led the Bolts to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final in 2011, his first season behind the bench.

Colorado: Patrick Wiercioch; The defenseman has four points in four games.

Florida: Jaromir Jagr; Jagr coming off his 750th goal of the season.

San Jose: Brent Burns; The defenseman has points in five consecutive games to begin the season.

Detroit: Thomas Vanek; Still second on the team with six points.

Minnesota: Zach Parise; Still hanging on 299. How fitting would it be to get 300 in New Jersey, where he spent the first seven years of his career?

New Jersey: Cory Schneider; Has a .938 save percentage and 2.00 GAA in four games. Going to need to keep it up; the Devils have six goals in four games.

Pittsburgh: Patric Hornqvist; He has four points in five games, second on the team behind Evgeni Malkin, who has five.

Nashville: James Neal; Played in Pittsburgh from 2011-14, had 89 goals and 184 points in 199 games.

Columbus: Zach Werenski; The rookie leads the Jackets in scoring.

Dallas: Devin Shore; The 22-year-old tied with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin for the team lead with four goals.

Vancouver: Jacob Markstrom; He’s stopped 68 of 73 shots that have come his way in three games.

Los Angeles: Jeff Carter; His 58.8 faceoff percentage ninth in the league.

St. Louis: Jay Bouwmeester; The defenseman played four seasons in Calgary. His 25:52 average time on ice was the highest among the three teams he played for (Florida 2002-09, St. Louis 2013-present).

Calgary: Brian Elliot; Played five seasons in St. Louis, had a 2.01 GAA and .925 save percentage in 181 games.

#HatTrickChallenge

James Neal: Hasn’t found the net in four games. Breaks out against his former team.

Game of the Night

Montreal at Boston: It’s never a dull one when these two teams face each other.

Lock to Win

Minnesota: Zach Parise gets his 300th goal against the team that drafted him and the Wild continue to roll.

 

 

The Joe Louis Arena Farewell Tour Kicks Off Tonight

Nothing that really jumps out in terms of game action for Monday; the most notable likely the Red Wings beginning its 81-game home slate at the ‘Joe’ for the final time, as the club will move to a shiny new venue in downtown Detroit next fall.

Here’s the action for tonight: Colorado at Pittsburgh, 7; San Jose at N.Y. Rangers, 7; Ottawa at Detroit, 7; Boston at Winnipeg, 8.

Players to Watch

Colorado: Joe Colborne – Scored a hat trick in his first game in an Avs uniform on Saturday night, a 6-5 win over Dallas. The former first round pick, playing in fourth organization after stays in Boston, Toronto, and Calgary, looks like he’s finally finding his game. He went for a career-high 44 points last season (previous was 28), and looks to only be continuing on the upward path.

Pittsburgh: Evgeni Malkin – Has three points in two games but has struggled in the faceoff circle, winning just 14 of 42. A 43.6 percent faceoff man for his career, Malkin’s faceoff percentage has gone down every year since his career-high 48.8 percent success rate in 2013-14.

San Jose: Martin Jones – It’s been two games, but he’s out to show last season was no fluke; 2-0 record with 47 saves on 50 shots in two games.

New York: Rick Nash – He’s pointless through two games, with just five shots on goal. Just the third time in his career he’s been held to such a low output through two games. Last season was one of them; the other was in 2006.

Ottawa: Craig Anderson – Senators are 2-0, but it’s not because Anderson has stood on his head. In fact, he’s allowed seven goals on 62 shots.

Detroit: Dylan Larkin – His praises were being sung – and rightfully so – during his standout rookie season a year ago. But he’s a minus-four with just one point through two games, winning 42.9 percent of his draws.

Boston: David Backes – Injured his hand in a fight during Saturday’s 4-1 loss to Toronto. He’s expect to play.

Winnipeg: Blake Wheeler – He has four points through two games while peppering eight shots at the cage in 21:55 average of ice time. The Bruins could use a guy like him…

#HatTrickChallenge

David Pastrnak: The Bruins forward caps off National Pasta Day the right way.

Game of the Day

Ottawa at Detroit – Not the sexiest matchup but nonetheless the home opener for the Red Wings, the final one at Joe Louis Arena.

Lock to Win

Red Wings – The Wings need the win on the heels of an 0-2 start. They haven’t been terrible offensively, but the Sens are vulnerable on defense.

Links

Larry Brooks stumps for the Rangers to go get Jacob Trouba.

Jimmy Vesey has yet to register a point, but he’s already making an impact.

Major decisions loom for Senators new head coach Guy Boucher.

Sidney Crosby continues to skate.

Red Wings shuffle lines after struggling in opening two games.