News flash: David Backes is sizzling out of the gate
OCT 15, 2013 9:40a ET
Well, a funny thing happened to David Backes last summer ...
Team management urged the 6-foot-3, 221-pound captain of the St. Louis Blues to tone down the weightlifting. To limit the weight training to hockey-specific tasks -- more on the ice and feeling good with the puck. To build up his cardio. And to get more fluid.
This makeover -- not what manly men like to hear -- was designed to make the powerful center more nimble in his movement.
"Sometimes players want to build strength ... to last the winter," coach Ken Hitchcock said.
The Blues know the kind of beating Backes has taken every season, but they believed his previous off-season strength-building approaches hadn't worked. It doesn't matter how strong you are if you don't have a good feel for the puck.
And then there was the matter of his notoriously slow starts. His best start ever had been in 2011-12, when he had two goals in 10 games. For most of his seven seasons, however, Backes had started with two goals in 24 games ... or somewhere in between. He had typically finished strong, but not last season.
Which explains, in part, why Backes bought into the new training approach. "I had ONLY six goals in 48 games last year," he said, sounding somber, almost apologetic.
There was another thing, the center said: "We wound up losing in the first round, and that leaves a terrible taste in your mouth, especially when you go up 2-0 in the series."
Backes is a smart guy. A Minneapolis native, he had straight A's from ninth grade through his junior year at Minnesota State Mankato. And he wasn't taking creampuff courses, either -- he was majoring in mechanical engineering. So after last season, he knew something needed to change.
"I got back on the ice in June, instead of August like usual," said Backes, 29. "I worked on getting a sprint start. I really worked on my skating and getting a feel for the puck. I worked on my passing and my shooting."
As the first four games of the season have revealed, Backes' feel for the puck is just fine, thank you very much. He is off to the fastest start in his career, scoring two goals Saturday night against the New York Rangers to give him four goals this season. A year ago, Backes didn't get his fourth goal until his 35th game.
What's more, he tallied three points (2-1-3) for the first time since January 21, 2012, as the Blues ran their record to 4-0. And it was his first two-goal outing since March 8, 2012.
"I feel great. I feel comfortable out there," Backes said. "'Fluid' is a good word. Other years, I've felt the game was really fast at the start. I had a hard time keeping up.
"Now, I'm able to keep up ... and things are going pretty well."
Blues opponents have noticed.
"He's hard-nosed," Nashville Predators coach Barry Trotz said. "He can give you some offense. He doesn't cheat. He plays hard. Every night he empties his tank."
It appears that this year, Backes will have more of his tank to empty out for Blues fans.
You can email Larry Wigge at email@example.com.
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