Column: Backes and the future both show their mettle in Ducks-Kings matchup
The Kings and Ducks are deep into youth movements, infusing fresh legs and skill into rosters that had become stale and unproductive. The process has sometimes been ugly, but youth is inarguably their only way forward as they accumulate talent and try to transform kids’ potential into points and wins.
With that in mind, it was noteworthy that 19-year-old Kings forward Arthur Kaliyev scored his first NHL goal Tuesday in his debut, a performance that hinted he will soon make an impact. But it was noteworthy, too, that 36-year-old Ducks forward David Backes made the biggest mark in the rival teams’ first meeting this season by scoring a goal, winning 12 of 19 faceoffs and continuing to display remarkable grace in difficult circumstances.
Until the kids on both teams prove themselves and take over, Backes can make a difference — and make the Ducks’ youth movement proceed more smoothly.
Cast aside by the Boston Bruins when his scoring tailed off and his lack of speed became a detriment, Backes was waived and sent to the minors, though he and the team agreed he didn’t have to report. He became a salary dump when Boston traded him to the Ducks in February 2020 in a deal that gave the Ducks a first-round draft pick in 2020.
He played six games last season but began this season on the taxi squad, where he stayed until Derek Grant sustained an upper-body injury. On Tuesday, in his third game back, Backes brought energy, gratitude and a glimpse of his old dominant self.
From the moment Ducks winger Nicolas Deslauriers dropped the gloves with Kings defenseman Kurtis MacDermid three seconds into the game, Deslauriers, Backes and Carter Rowney were a force the Kings couldn’t reckon with. Deslauriers had a Gordie Howe hat trick — hockey shorthand for a major fighting penalty, a goal and an assist. Backes got eight shots on net in the Ducks’ season-high 43-shot barrage and scored what wound up as the decisive goal in the team’s 3-1 victory over the flat, outworked Kings.
The NHL’s COVID-19 protocols presents challenges for the Kings and Ducks as both teams look to bounce back from disappointing seasons.
Beyond that, Backes gained priceless assurance that he could make meaningful contributions, that his optimism and long hours on the ice and on the bike had been worthwhile.
“They gave me a little bit of life in Anaheim. I’m just taking it all as a blessing,” he said.
“I’ve gotten perspective that I don’t think many guys get while they’re still playing. ... What was there for me was taken away and I kind of felt a little mourning, but I got to appreciate that. Next time I get on the ice, every shift is truly a gift to go out there and put an NHL jersey on and play every night.”
Ducks coach Dallas Eakins said Backes had earned a place in the lineup through his words and his actions.
“He’s brought a lot of positivity to our bench, a lot of leadership, and he’s played hard,” Eakins said after the Ducks (4-5-2) had ended a three-game losing streak. “We’ve been talking a lot with our team about winning puck battles and being hard to play against and he’s done that, and we thought it was important to reward that.
“And [on Tuesday] he played a very, very good game. He was hot in the faceoff circle. Had a critical goal for us, and with his experience, it’s amazing on that bench. It’s almost like a secondary coach. He just knows the game so well. He’s helping all of our players.”
The Ducks scored first, at 10:07 of the first period, when Danton Heinen took a pass from Jakob Silfverberg and lifted it beyond the reach of Kings goaltender Cal Petersen. Backes extended the lead to 2-0 on the first shift of the second period, taking a one-timer from close range set up by a slick pass from Rowney 17 seconds in.
It was Backes’ first goal since Dec. 1, 2019, though that was a span of only 15 games. “I got back to the bench and I said, ‘I forget how good it feels to score.’ I want to just keep doing it,” he said. “I had a lot of shots, a lot of opportunities. My linemates were working their butts off.”
When he returned to the bench in the silent, fan-less arena, he was greeted by backup goalie Ryan Miller, a longtime friend and Backes’ teammate on the 2010 and 2014 U.S. Olympic teams.
“We’ve got a lot of history together. He’s one of those teammates that’s happy for your success,” Backes said. “We had extra skates in the early part of the year and shot a lot of pucks on him, so he gets a little bit of a nod, and all those guys that are on that taxi squad that worked their butts off. When we need another body, they can step in and we don’t miss a step.”
Kings winger Andreas Athanasiou is unavailable for the game Thursday at Minnesota after being placed on the NHL’s COVID protocol list.
The Kings cut the Ducks’ lead to 2-1 at 5:27 of the second period, when Kaliyev converted the rebound of a shot by Michael Amadio, but the Ducks held on and added an empty-net goal with 46 seconds left in the third period.
“I thought we were on point with everything that we wanted to accomplish,” Eakins said. “I would still like us to score more goals. The chances are there. We’ve just got to put them in the net.”
Backes is happy to mentor his younger teammates and help them score those goals. “To accelerate their learning curve to be better, sooner, to not have some of the hard lessons I’ve had — I feel like that’s my responsibility as well,” he said. But he’s not done trying to make his own contributions.
“Enjoy it, don’t have any regrets, leave it all out there and, you know what, enjoy the wins,” he said. “Enjoy — I hate to say this — enjoy the losses and the struggles, and when you get through them, what kind of growth that it makes on your team. That’s kind of the mind-set that I’m trying to bring in the locker room.
“I’m trying to impart that [to] some of the guys, especially the young guys, but it’s probably going to go in one ear and out the other because it did for me when I was younger. But I recently had that taken away from me and now I’ve gotten a second life, and I’m going to do everything I can to make the most of it and to show these guys in Anaheim that they made a good bet on what I still had left in the tank.”
Go beyond the scoreboard
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