When an interview begins with “excuse my naked body,” it’s a good sign that you’re in for something special. While David Backes may have been exaggerating some, he was certainly effusive when it came to discussing the challenges of adjusting his home life to life in the Eastern Conference. After nearly five years as the captain of the Blues, Backes now takes the ice for the Boston Bruins, and his new experiences of life on the road are affecting every corner of his career.
“You’re home for a day or two, and [then] you’re out and Momma [has to] take care of everything at home while you’re away,” he said. “Thankfully, I’ve got a good wife that does a good job.”
Hospitality may be plentiful in the Backes household, but it’s apparently a challenge for the current Blues captain. While the former captain did predict a warm welcome back to St. Louis, he was skeptical as to the quality of the grub.
“I’m guessing [Alex] Pietrangelo will be hosting,” Backes said, “but I’ve seen him cook and it’ll probably be catered in.” While Game Time can’t vouch for the welcome he received on his return to St. Louis, Backes’s intuition as to the inner workings of his new team certainly provides confidence that his finger remains on the pulse of his old one.
While Backes joined the Blues at one of the franchise’s lowest points and came of age as a natural leader, the circumstances in Boston are very different. I asked Backes about the challenges of a new locker room, and finding his place on a veteran team that already features an impressive cadre of established players.
“I knew I was going to come in here with a great core — that I was going to be complimentary and supplementary to them, and I wanted to find a niche that needed to be filled and kind of jump in that and be supportive of the current core that’s here,” he said. “With [Zdeno Chara] and [Patrice Bergeron] and [Brad Marchand] and [David Krejci], you know, try to support what they had going already and be their best ally in the room so that we could be cohesive and have a great group moving forward.”
Backes also seemed cautious of overstepping his bounds, and very aware that he had to establish his credibility anew.
“It’s been a process getting to know those guys and getting to know other guys and building those relationships. It’s not taken personally when you’re in the middle of a game and you need more from one guy; to be able to tell him, ‘hey, we need more out of you right now.’ They take it to heart and want to battle for the guy next to you.”
The difference between travel in the Eastern Conference and travel in the Western Conference is apparently every bit as intense as advertised. As with Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, Backes spoke of the challenges of the constantly moving schedule in the east as contrasted with the ebbs and flows in the west. “Just a little bit more rhythm upsetting,” he said. “You just have to deal with what’s coming next, but there are adjustments all over the place. We’re taking it in stride, and what really matters is when we’re at the rink for the game and producing and playing the way we need to.”
Even inside the Bruins locker room, it was clear that different players have wildly different strategies when it comes to preparation. The in-rink feed in Washington was showing the Boston locker room before they took the ice for warmups, and as Backes stood in full gear (helmet included), high scoring winger David Pastrnak was still in shorts and a t-shirt.
Miraculously, less than four minutes later, Pastrnak took the ice in full gear and showed no signs of being behind his pace. If you’ve ever suited up for a hockey game, you know full well that pads can be a process, and to this day Pastrnak’s efficiency is perhaps the most befuddling thing I’ve seen around the rink.
That speed in the room carried over to speed on the ice. His 19 goals currently put Pastrnak in a sixth place tie among NHL league leaders, and he had a third period rush against Washington speedster Evgeny Kuznetsov where his strength and puck grit generated a power play and a scoring chance simultaneously.
Rookie defenseman Brandon Carlo is a high value prospect for the Bruins, but he’s still developing some facets of his defensive game. Washington’s first goal of the game was scored by Justin Williams on a play that involved a complicated dangle that Carlo couldn’t track down, and T.J. Oshie made him look equally foolish later on.
As Blues fans dream about destinations for Kevin Shattenkirk, keep in mind that the Bruins may have a younger version in house with Carlo, and they may not be eager to double down on the flaws without adding a particularly substantial upgrade.
Boston’s team defense held strong for nearly half the game, however, as the Capitals went 26:27 without a shot on goal. In that span, the Bruins erased the 3-0 deficit that the Capitals created for them to start the game, but were ultimately vanquished by a Nicklas Backstrom overtime goal. The game was yet another in a long string that proves justice in the NHL is, ultimately, a feeble concept.
Setting aside the early Washington outburst, the Bruins played a textbook road game that focused on smart puck decisions and denying chances to the opposition. It was a game that resembled the success the Blues formerly had on the road, and it’s difficult to ignore the possibility that number 42’s presence is making a substantial contribution to the stability of life on the road for Boston.