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Injuries Have Forced Bruins Into A Juggling Act

Backes' surgery is latest blow to Boston's banged-up roster

by Eric Russo @NHLBruins /

BOSTON - At times this season, Bruce Cassidy has seemed more like a juggler than a hockey coach. Injuries have wreaked havoc on his lineup, which has had more permutations than a menu at The Cheesecake Factory.

But the Bruins' bench boss knows that comes with the territory. Injuries are part of hockey, and teams - as well as coaches - must be able to adjust on the fly.

As the Bruins were forced to do again on Wednesday with the news that David Backes will miss an estimated eight weeks to recover from surgery to remove part of his colon. The decision to have the procedure was made in consultation with team physicians and outside specialists in the management of Backes' diverticulitis, which sidelined the veteran forward for the season's first five games.

"It's challenging every day," Cassidy said following Wednesday morning's practice at Warrior Ice Arena. "You want to develop some chemistry with the lines. You want some chemistry with the goaltending situations - both goalies have been hurt. Just to be able to play a certain style of play every night and have that repetition.

"That's been difficult, but it's the hand you're dealt and you gotta play it. Our job right now is to try to be as seamless as possible, putting lines together and incorporating young guys."

Video: With Backes out, next man up for B's

Backes rejoins an already crowded list of Bruins on the shelf. Noel Acciari (broken finger), Anton Khudobin (lower body), David Krejci (upper body), Adam McQuaid (broken fibula), and Ryan Spooner (torn adductor) are currently sidelined, while Patrice Bergeron (lower body), Torey Krug (broken jaw), and Tuukka Rask (concussion) have also missed games at various times over the first month.

"Everyone that gets the tap on the shoulder gets more responsibility, get more ice time out of it," said Bergeron, who sat out the first five games of the season. "You've got to go out there and do the job. I can't tell you one guy [that has to step in]. I think it's everybody really. We all might be asked to do a little more for the team and you have to answer."

While each player will be asked to help fill the void Backes' loss creates on the ice, the leadership that he provides in the dressing room will be tough to replicate.

"What he brings as a leader, he's a big voice in the locker room," said Bergeron. "He's been around for a while, he's was the captain in St. Louis. He's a big void to fill on and off the ice. It's all about that mentality of next man up and we all pick up the slack."

Backes, who played wing for much of his first season-plus with the Bruins, had shifted back to the middle over the last few games with Krejci and Spooner out of the lineup. His absence created another open slot, which led to the recall of Jordan Szwarz from Providence on an emergency basis Wednesday morning.

Szwarz, who manned the middle between Danton Heinen and Anders Bjork during Wednesday's practice, was leading the P-Bruins with five goals in six games this season. He last played in the NHL with the Arizona Coyotes in 2014-15,

"A guy like me is always looking for that opportunity and it's finally come," said Szwarz. "The real work starts now. I have my work cut out for me to try to open some eyes and keep the job as long as I can."

Video: Jordan Szwarz speaks to the media

The Bruins are also being forced to return to a more well-known commodity. As he did during the second half of Boston's 4-3 shootout loss to Columbus on Monday, Cassidy reunited David Pastrnak with Bergeron and Brad Marchand for practice. While he prefers to ice a more balanced lineup, Cassidy will be looking for the trio - one of the NHL's best a season ago - to carry the load with so many moving parts throughout the rest of the roster.

"We're gonna expect a lot out of that offensively," said Cassidy, who plans to start them together on Thursday night against the Vegas Golden Knights. "We've got to guard against that because if they get shut down then you want to have the other groups have a certain measure of success offensively, too. But at the end of the day we know we're missing some proven offensive guys…Spooner, Krejci, Backes have scored in this league.

"We'd like it if we have better balance. Some days it works out, some days it doesn't."

Unfortunately for Cassidy and the Bruins, some days have been most days this season.

"It is a test. It's been a challenge from Game 1," said Bergeron. "We've missed someone since the beginning of the year. We haven't played a game with our full lineup yet. I'd be lying if I said it's ideal. But that being said, coach was also preaching that it's opportunity for other guys to step up and have a bigger share of responsibilities and what not.

"We have to hold the fort until we do get some more players in."

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