So much for David Backes’ concussion history, potential lasting effects, and a need to ease him back into the lineup. Less than a week after leaving the Boston Bruins’ win against the Buffalo Sabres last Thursday with a concussion and being deemed “out indefinitely“, the big forward was back at practice today. Coach Claude Julien announced that he had been medically cleared for full contact and Backes was back skating with his usual line of David Krejci and Ryan Spooner. Backes left the possibility open that he could return to the lineup as early as tomorrow night, when the Bruins face the Edmonton Oilers. Throughout his career, Backes has returned quickly from head injuries, and that appears to be the case again for the veteran.
While Backes would have liked to have played against the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday and gotten some retribution (he said so himself), the Bruins played it cautiously sitting him out the past two games. Unfortunately, after sweeping the season series with Buffalo, Backes (as well as Adam McQuaid and Kevan Miller) will have to wait until next year for another shot at the Sabres. However, after an embarrassing shutout loss to the New Jersey Devils on Monday, Backes’ return has become of vital importance to Boston. Nearly halfway through the 2016-17 season, the Bruins sit tied for second place in the Atlantic Division with the Ottawa Senators, with a lead on the Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning, but having played more games than all three teams. At 20-16-4, Boston is not having a bad year, but has struggled to beat playoff-caliber teams and recently has lost bad games against the Devils, Carolina Hurricanes, New York Islanders, and Colorado Avalanche. Still on the search for consistent scoring, the Bruins need all the help they can get up front, and that includes their free agent splurge, Backes. So far in 2016-17, Backes has nine goals and ten assists in 33 games, which is on pace for the worst full season of his career. They were lucky to avoid a long absence from the power forward, but they need Backes to step up his play when he returns to the ice.
Julien also indicated today that Matt Beleskey is on the mend and has begun skating again. Beleskey has been out since mid-December with a knee injury and was given a six-week prognosis for recovery. While it sounds like his return is still a ways off, perhaps close to the projected early February date, it’s good news that another top forward is getting healthy. Once Beleksey, who enjoyed a career-high 37-point season last year, returns it will be the first time that the Bruins have he and Frank Vatrano healthy at the same time this season. They young winger just returned from injury and is already making a difference. Adding Backes and Beleskey back into the mix will give the Bruins the complete top nine that they expected to begin the season with and could help them rediscover their scoring. Julien has always tried to roll four lines deep on offense, and that task has proved to be a struggle so far this season. The Bruins’ growing health may finally solve that problem.