Kicking off the post-break portion of the Calgary Flames season with a goal and six points in two games on back-to-back nights, Second-Half Backs is … back.
That’s what Flames teammates ribbingly call centre Mikael Backlund, who has a reputation of upped offensive output in the later stages of his NHL seasons.
“There’s a joke that goes around the locker-room that he’s Second-Half Backs,” revealed linemate Blake Coleman. “He’s stepped right into it these first two games.”
He sure has. Against some pretty good opponents, too.
Backlund was a force against the Calgary Flames’ Pacific Division rival on Wednesday, scoring the team’s second goal and setting up three others in a 6-0 win over the Vegas Golden Knights.
It was the soon-to-be 33-year-old’s first four-point game in a dozen full-time seasons in the NHL.
He followed it up with a pair of helpers in a 5-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs 24 hours later and was a huge part of keeping the potent Leafs forwards from doing too much damage.
Head coach Darryl Sutter said publicly recently that he can’t have guys who play up to 18 minutes scoring three or four goals – specifically talking about Backlund.
But those weren’t just words through the media. Sutter had the same conversation with Backlund before the road swing that took the Calgary Flames into the all-star break.
“We had a good talk before our road trip, me and Darryl. We both shared our feelings with each other. I knew I had to be better. That was the point of the talk. He said I had to be more competitive, more emotions,” Backlund said.
“I think that’s been a big part of it – playing more aggressively without the puck, making more plays with the puck.
“I think I’ve done that since then. My game has been getting better and better since that trip.”
As for the nickname, he said he takes it as a compliment. And he can’t argue with it. The stats, he says, back up the back-half bursts.
“I don’t know what to say, it’s just crazy that my whole career has been that way. Some seasons I double my points second half compared to my first half. I remember my rookie year. I think I had eight points in the first half and finished with 25,” Backlund said.
He’s not sure why, and spends most of his summers trying to figure out how to do the same in the first half of the year.
“I’m still trying to figure it out and I’m 33 years old soon.”
As they gear up for the playoffs, the Calgary Flames will be happy to have secondary scoring from within.
It’s no secret GM Brad Treliving is shopping the NHL trade market. He’s seeking help up front to take some of the heat off the top line.
So Second-Half Backs is a welcome sight.
“If we’re going to be a real threat to make some noise in the playoffs, he’s going to have to be a big part of the team,” Coleman said. “I’d say he’s really started to step into that role.”