Saying that St. Louis Blues Captain David Backes has had a slow start to the 2012-13 season is an understatement.
Through the first 15 games of the shortened season, Backes accumulated two goals and nine assists, helping the Blues get out to a 9-5-1 start. While these numbers are by no means at perennial level, they are acceptable for a defensive-minded center who is relied on to play against top NHL forwards every game.
The next 18 games were quite the difference as the 28-year old posted just eight points (including only one goal in that time). Backes also found himself in a rare position, posting a minus-2 rating. His faceoff percentage was lacking as well, many times recording less than 50% in the draws.
Along with Backes, the Blues looked like they were sputtering out of control and were no longer a lock to make the 2013 playoffs. Heading into April, the Blues had a 17-14-2 record (36 points), and were just one point ahead of the ninth place Dallas Stars.
The team was able to gain some traction in April, posting a 9-2-0 record. This came after General Manager Doug Armstrong shook up the roster by acquiring defensemen Jordan Leopold and Jay Bouwmeester in separate deals. Despite their outstanding month, the Blues were still looking for that competitive, noticeable play from their star captain.
They’ve gotten just that in the past four games.
Heading into the Blues’ April 14 matchup with the rival Chicago Blackhawks, Backes registered 133 hits in 40 games played, averaging 3.02 hits per game. In the Blues’ 2-0 loss to the Hawks, He recorded five hits, including a bone-cruncher on rookie Brandon Saad.
The next game, played two nights later at home against the Vancouver Canucks, Backes had six hits and accumulated six penalty minutes in the Blues exciting 2-1 shootout win. In this game, Backes’ presence was felt every time he stepped on the ice.
At 15:56 of the second period, he was involved in a skirmish with defenseman Keith Ballard that resulted in both players dropping the gloves. Canucks forward Alex Burrows joined in the battle, hogtying Backes from behind and wrestling him to the ice before the fight could occur. This sent the Blues bench and the 17,709 in attendance into a frenzy, giving the Blues a boost on the ice.
Backes was not done there. At 12:21 of the third period, Backes and Ballard got into it again in front of the Vancouver net after a loose puck was kicked around the crease. Canucks defenseman Andrew Alberts jostled Blues forward David Perron to the ice, causing Backes to leave Ballard and jump in on Alberts.
“He was the man,” Blues goaltender Brian Elliott said after the game. “I think we need that leadership by example. Guys don’t want to go up against him. Him banging out there was great to see.”
Backes has not only been the loudest Blues player in the hit parade but also in the faceoff circle. Before April 14, Backes had a respectable 51.8% faceoff percentage (393/759). In the past four games, Backes has posted a 57.8% (48-83), including an astonishing 70.8% in the offensive zone (17-24). His 60.5% (23-38) in the defensive zone has been a key to the Blues only allowing five goals total in the past four games.
Although Backes has just five goals on the season, his 19 assists are tied for the team lead. He may still be lacking in offensive production but has provided the Blues with a solid work ethic and a gritty demeanor late in the season.
Better statistics will follow if Backes can keep this pace up through the last four games of the season, as well as through the playoffs.
Notorious slow-starter? That is not a problem for the Blues as they are playing some of their best hockey just before the playoffs begin.