Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

What Backes’ suspension means for Bruins’ Winter Classic lineup

Matt Kalman
December 28, 2018 - 7:32 pm

Playing the role of 2016 Alexander Khokhlachev in the 2019 Winter Classic could be Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson.

Or perhaps not.

One thing is certain, the Bruins are going to need to replace David Backes in their lineup when they face the Chicago Blackhawks in South Bend on Tuesday because Backes will be serving the second game of a three-game suspension he was handed by the NHL Department of Player Safety on Friday.

Backes was suspended for his illegal check to the head in the Bruins’ 5-2 loss to New Jersey on Thursday. The NHLDOPS cited Backes’ repeat offender status and the fact that Devils forward Blake Coleman didn’t move his head prior to the check as part of the reason for the suspension, which will start when the Bruins play in Buffalo on Saturday.

Now back to the lineup quandary.

If Brad Marchand, who missed practice Friday with an upper-body injury and is unlikely to play against the Sabres, can take the ice against the Blackhawks, then filling Backes’ hole in the lineup is easy: Noel Acciari goes in on right wing and plays with Colby Cave and Ryan Donato in Backes’ slot.

But if Marchand can’t play on New Year’s Day, the Bruins will have to reach further into their depth and that could mean Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, who has been a healthy scratch the past three games, getting back into the lineup and causing a major lineup shuffle. Forsbacka Karlsson is a center and the Bruins would need someone to play left wing for Marchand and right wing for Backes. Or the Bruins could summon someone from Providence of the AHL, like Notre Dame alum and versatile wing Anders Bjork.

The parallels between Forsbacka Karlsson and Khokhlachev are numerous, starting with the fact that Khokhlachev played in the 2016 Winter Classic because of Marchand’s suspension. Like Forsbacka Karlsson, Khokhlachev was a high-skill prospect fans were in love with but needed to round out his game in order to be a regular in the lineup of an NHL contender. Khokhlachev left North America for the friendly confines of the KHL after that season.

Forsbacka Karlsson has shown the Bruins little in 17 NHL games this season, picking up just three goals and two assists despite playing some games between Marchand and David Pastrnak. It’s obvious he needs more seasoning in the AHL but the circumstances the Bruins have been in with injuries, suspensions and the holiday roster freeze have kept him in the NHL.

If he gets in the Bruins’ lineup, Forsbacka Karlsson may be able to give the Bruins more on the outdoor sheet than the shot-less, point-less 6:01 of ice time Khokhlachev gave them in that embarrassing 5-1 loss to Montreal in Foxboro three years ago.

If Forsbacka Karlsson can’t answer the bell and make an impact, the Bruins may be in big trouble even beyond the end of Backes’ ban.