TAMPA – Dougie Hamilton certainly knew how to respond when he climbed back into the Bruins lineup.
At the mercy of the Bruins coaching staff attempting to rotate seven healthy defensemen all capable of playing at a high level, the 20-year-old had been scratched in two straight games leading into Thursday night’s game against the Florida Panthers. Claude Julien inserted Hamilton back into a pairing with Zdeno Chara, and scratched stay-at-home bruiser Adam McQuaid for the first time this season while paving the way for the young defenseman’s best game of the season.
Hamilton responded with a power play goal in the first period that snapped Boston’s 0-for-12 drought on the man advantage, and helped lead the Bruins to the 3-2 win over Tim Thomas and the Florida Panthers.
“I had a lot of excitement and adrenaline being back in the lineup,” admitted Hamilton, who now has a goal in four games this season. “[The goal] was nice. I wasn’t sure what to do out on the power play with [the first unit], but I told [David Krejci] he made it really easy on me by moving the puck so well.
“I don’t think that puck goes in if [Chara] doesn’t stand in front of the net. When you know he’s there you take any shot that you can. We’ve been talking about getting [shots] up, so they have to make a save with their hands. If they can’t see [the shot] then that’s pretty tough. [Chara] basically created that goal.”
The second-year defenseman led the Bruins with five shots on net, threw out three registered hits and blocked a shot in the kind of all-around performance Boston will be looking for out of the talented youngster.
“With these young players [like Hamilton] you’re seeing many strides of improvement,” said Chara. “The [improvements] are getting bigger and bigger because they have so much room to improve early in their career. For sure he’s getting better and [the game vs. Florida] is for sure going to help his confidence.”
Does a 36-year-old Chara remember what it was like to be a 20-year-old raw piece of defenseman clay still soaking in the game?
“For sure…it was only a few years ago,” said Chara. “It’s a time when you really have to take in every detail and watch everything that’s going on when you’re on or off the ice. It’s all about the details.”
The connection between a successful Bruins power play and Hamilton’s insertion back into the B’s lineup certainly isn’t coincidental.
The accurate, booming shot from the young blueliner is a bona fide weapon from the point position, and easily found the back of the net with Zdeno Chara screening right out in front of him. The second power play unit had experienced difficulty with their flow of puck movement while missing Hamilton in the games against Columbus and Detroit.
It was a performance appreciated by Julien after tapping Hamilton for duty in the endless rotation of seven capable D-men for the Black and Gold.
“We’re not making a big story out of this as we’re rotating guys in and out of the lineup. At some point somebody is going to get hurt, and I don’t want guys to be sitting for a month before they’re thrown into the lineup,” said Julien. “We’ve got some good, young players, and we can’t always just pull the young guys back out of the lineup.
“With [Hamilton, Bartkowski and Krug] we want to see how good our transition game is going to be, because you saw how good it was against the Rangers [in the playoffs]. Those young guys came in and moved the puck well. But you do suffer a little defensively as well [with McQuaid out]. It’s one of those things where you weigh the pros and cons when you’re going game-to-game.”
The shot and the ability to move around to create shooting lines was something Hamilton had last year as a rookie, but his teammates have noticed his improvements in the battle areas in the defensive zone. Hamilton brings a little bit nastier streak to his game defending around the net, and he’s found a way to battle bigger, stronger, older opponents that gave him trouble last season.
Another thing that’s helped Hamilton: a clear definition of the situation. All of the defensemen know they’ll be sitting at some point to keep everybody fresh until the inevitable injury bug hits over the course of a long season. So it was a little less stressful knowing that he’d draw back into the lineup quickly, and that happened after missing only two games.
“I don’t think I’m really worried about playing badly. For me I think I played pretty well in the first three games. They told me I was playing well,” said Hamilton. “You understand the situation, and you just need to ready when you’re called.
“It’s tougher if you come to the rink not knowing if you’re going to play, and then it’s up in the air. It can be easier when you know the situation going in. But I guess it’s all a learning experience.”