Backlund’s Game Rounding Into Form Nicely

The Calgary Flames have enjoyed the luxury of having major offensive weapons to rely on during what’s been an outstanding 2018-19 campaign so far. The bad news for the rest of their Western Conference counterparts is that one of their understated depth scorers, Mikael Backlund, is starting to contribute more consistently.

Backlund hit the score sheet with his tenth goal of the season in a 5-3 win over the Colorado Avalanche to kick off the Flames’ latest homestand on a positive note. The 29-year-old veteran has been able to showcase his offensive prowess of late after a slow start to the season.

Backlund is part of the reunited 3M line that also includes Michael Frolik and Matthew Tkachuk. All three registered goals in the triumph over the Avalanche that allowed the Flames to remain atop the Pacific Division standings.

There’s no doubt that with Calgary’s no. 1 line of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Elias Lindholm among the top units in the league, the Flames’ attack is in very good hands. The team is third in the NHL in goals scored, and Backlund getting more involved in the offensive fireworks is another encouraging sign moving forward.

Backlund Has Become Key Part of Flames’ Core

The talented Swede has come into his own in the past few seasons, including adding a couple of 20-goal campaigns to his resume. Backlund’s development may have taken a little longer than hoped for when he first joined the Flames, but he’s been able to entrench himself as a reliable fixture on the roster while closing in on 600 career games played. His value to the organization was rewarded last season when he inked a lucrative contract extension and prior to the 2018-19 season, he was named as an alternate captain.

Mikael Backlund, TJ Brodie
Calgary Flames’ TJ Brodie celebrates with Mikael Backlund. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Backlund was hoping to rebound this season after an individual downturn in 2017-18, a disappointing, non-playoff season for the Flames. His production dropped to 14 goals from 21 the year before and his plus/minus statistics also went south, from a plus-9 to a minus-21.

This season, the talented two-way performer struggled out of the gate as he netted just three goals in his first 25 games. However, spearheaded by a two-goal effort in an entertaining 8-5 New Year’s Eve win against the San Jose Sharks, Backlund is on a roll with four goals in his last six games and is a solid plus-6 during that stretch. He now has ten goals and 12 assists in 41 games this season and is an impressive plus-18. His shooting percentage has also spiked from 6.5 per cent last season to 9.9 per cent in 2018-19.

Backlund Established as Top Two-Way Centreman

The first-round draft pick from the 2007 NHL Entry Draft should be in the Selke Trophy discussion as the league’s most skilled defensive forward. Backlund plays anywhere from 17 to 20 minutes per night and executes those tough minutes against their opponent’s best line. The Backlund line is a favored shut-down unit for Flames head coach Bill Peters.

Backlund’s 200-foot game is as solid as they come and it’s a luxury for the Flames to have someone who can be counted on defensively and be dependable offensively. His well-rounded skills are apparent now that he’s rediscovered his scoring touch. Backlund has notched seven markers in his last 16 contests and as a result, the prospect of another 20-goal season isn’t out of the question.

Mikael Backlund, Calgary Flames
Backlund has found his offensive side over the last few seasons. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The long-time Flame is also known for his durability, as he missed just one regular season game in the three seasons prior to the 2018-19 campaign. Unfortunately, he won’t hit the 80-game plateau this season after missing four games due to an upper-body injury suffered in a Dec. 6 game against the Minnesota Wild, when he was on the receiving end of a violent hit from Matt Dumba in the final minute of a 2-0 Calgary win.

Fortunately, Backlund’s showed no signs of long-term, ill effects after missing time due to the league’s concussion protocol and he’s again proving his worth as part of the Flames’ success. If he can continue to contribute at both ends of the ice and serve as a solid special teams performer, Backlund is poised to play a critical role in this second half of the season.

Backlund and Co. Will Be Needed Come Crunch Time

The Flames’ hunt for the Stanley Cup will be bolstered if the 3M line can be at the top of their game, and there’s no denying that Backlund’s performance will be a key component for their success. When at their best the trio of Backlund, Frolik and Tkachuk are a formidable combination as they’re responsible defensively, have offensive upside and can be tough to play against because of their attention to detail and overall grit.

Backlund is a jack of all trades thanks to his ability to play against the best talent that the opposition has to offer and he’s emerged as someone who leads by example. He’s highly regarded by his teammates and coaches for his compete level and his well-structured game. There’s no doubt that Backlund is an unsung presence on a Flames squad that has enjoyed remarkable success so far this season, and his recent play is proof that his overall game is now firing on all cylinders.