David Backes gets a shot as third-line center
After Bruins practice Sunday, some players and coaches brought their kids to the ice, some to the dressing room. Amid the smiles, everyone kept an eye on Zdeno and Tatiana Chara’s twin boys, Ben and Zack, as they took wild swings at a puck and a tennis ball with sawed-off sticks. Two-year-olds can cause damage, especially if their last name is Chara.
Anders Bjork didn’t hang around to see if the boys inherited the family gift for slap shots. He was already sporting a patched-up purple shiner around his right eye, thanks to a puck that deflected up high early in Saturday’s practice.
“It’s fine,” he said. “No stitches, just a little cut.”
“He looks like a warrior ready for battle,” cracked David Backes.
Bjork, a kid himself at 22, and 23-year-old Danton Heinen may be able to share some youthful energy with their new center in Monday’s home opener against the Senators (1 p.m., NESN).
Bruce Cassidy is again trying Backes, 34, as his third-line pivot. It is admittedly Plan C for the Bruins coach, who was open about preseason Plans A and B failing to this point. None of his talented rookie centers — Jack Studnicka, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, and Trent Frederic — were ready for third-line duty. Sean Kuraly has struggled to find his game after jumping up from the fourth line (a lower-body injury has not helped). “Might have to wait on that, kind of toggle [Kuraly] and Backs back and forth,” Cassidy said. “We talked to David about it. He’s got some speed and skill on his wings.”
Heinen has above-average wheels, and Bjork might tie Jake DeBrusk in a footrace as the Bruins’ fastest skater. Experience and physicality are parts of Backes’s game. High pace is not. However, the line could work if Backes uses his body to separate players from the puck in the defensive zone, joins the rush as the third forward, and plays a responsible game up high while his wingers buzz around down low.
“I don’t want to be a passive, checking third line,” said Backes, who played one preseason game centering Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak, with Patrice Bergeron out, and was primarily a center in his run in St. Louis (2007-16). “I want to be an offensive threat. We need to get to that. Whether I’m in the slot, shooting one-timers — I don’t know if I’ve got the Bergy one-timer chemistry, like him and March do, but we can find those pucks and bang a few rebounds home.”
Time for a rebound
Tuukka Rask will start for the Bruins on Monday, getting a chance to rebound from a disastrous opening-night start (five goals on 19 shots) last Wednesday at Washington. Turning the page is easy for most goaltenders, at least ones who have spent as long in the league as Rask (in his 10th full season).
Cassidy copped to “a bit of consternation” about a layoff, going three days without a game.
“Hopefully we’ll have lots of energy. I’m sure Ottawa will. They’ve started well. All the talk about them, they went into Toronto and won a game,” he said. “Played Chicago well. I hope our guys are focused and ready to go at 1 o’clock.”
The Senators, expected to be chum for the sharks of the league after dealing Erik Karlsson to San Jose, have started 1-0-1 and aren’t listening to the predictions. Young blue liner Thomas Chabot has been impressive, running and gunning his way to a pair of goals and an assist in Saturday’s 5-3 road win against the Leafs.
Tkachuk ready to go
Down the road, in the visitors’ dressing room at Agganis Arena, one Senators player wondered aloud where they could go to watch Sunday’s NFL games after practice.
Brady Tkachuk knows of a few spots. But he wouldn’t be joining them.
He was heading to Medford, where his grandparents John and Gerry were hosting a Tkachuk family gathering. The whole clan — and then some — plans to be in attendance Monday. After practice, Tkachuk had his eye on acquiring 25 game tickets and passes for 70.
He’s hopeful they can use them. Tkachuk has yet to make his NHL debut, held back by a strained groin from a Sept. 29 preseason game against Montreal.
“If everything works out, I know I’ll be ready to go,” said Tkachuk, the fourth overall pick in last June’s draft and the son of a 538-goal scorer from Medford and BU. “I’ve been itching to be in the lineup.”
Keith and Chantal Tkachuk, who raised their three children (Matthew, Brady, and Taryn) in St. Louis, were in attendance for Ottawa’s season-opening loss to Chicago and Saturday’s win at Toronto. They watched their middle child take warmups. Senators coach Guy Boucher all but confirmed Tkachuk (1-1—2 in four preseason games) would make his NHL debut Monday.
Though he’s the highest draft pick from a heralded hockey family — Matthew was taken sixth by the Flames in 2016, Keith 19th in 1990 by the Winnipeg Jets — Boucher said he was tempering expectations for his rookie winger.
“I don’t want to put pressure on Brady to be a savior of any kind,” Boucher said. “We’ve enjoyed his performances up to now.”
A first for Condon
Ottawa backup Mike Condon, who grew up in Holliston and played at Belmont Hill, will start his first game at TD Garden. He recalled Sunday attending “countless Bruins games, concerts, Beanpots” at the Garden, as well as Game 7 of the 2011 Eastern Conference quarterfinals, which saw Montreal’s P.K. Subban tie it late and Nathan Horton push the eventual Stanley Cup champions into the second round with an overtime winner.
“Crazy back-and-forth game,” Condon said. “A great battle. I was a big Bruins fan back then. Not as much of a Bruins fan anymore.”
He has competed in one pro game in this area: the 2016 Winter Classic at Gillette Stadium, when, as an undrafted rookie out of Princeton, he made 27 saves in Montreal’s 5-1 rout of his former favorite team.
Wagner gets call
Fourth-liner Chris Wagner, of Walpole, was scratched at Buffalo Thursday but will make his regular-season home debut. He will replace Joakim Nordstrom, the idea being “to keep guys fresh,” Cassidy said . . . Cassidy said the club would decide whether to release or sign PTO winger Lee Stempniak after the homestand (Edmonton on Thursday, Detroit on Saturday), to see if there’s a need for a veteran presence lower in the lineup.