PHILADELPHIA — For his first trick back from a four-game absence, Dougie Hamilton only had to match up against the Flyers’ first line of Scott Hartnell, Claude Giroux, and Jakub Voracek.
Hamilton brushed off the challenging reentry to NHL pace in Saturday’s 6-1 Bruins win. In his first game since a concussion, Hamilton responded with an 18:55 workload and three shots on goal. The Flyers’ top line didn’t score an even-strength goal.
“I think everyone’s playing well,” Hamilton said. “I’m happy to be a part of it now.”
Zdeno Chara started the game with Johnny Boychuk as his partner. But once the Bruins got the lead, the coaches opted for balanced defensive pairings. Boychuk slid down to skate with Matt Bartkowski. Torey Krug took shifts with Kevan Miller. Hamilton moved up to Chara’s right side.
Hamilton also manned his usual spot at the point on the No. 2 power-play unit. Several players, including Chara and Zach Trotman, had rotated through the position while Hamilton was missing.
“There’s a guy who’s now been with us for a year. He does have some experience,” said coach Claude Julien. “He’s really calm with the puck. He makes good plays, moves the puck extremely well. It was good. When you compare him to Trots, there’s a year of experience difference there. It does help out, especially with the injuries we’ve had.”
The Bruins have 32 games left to determine their defensive formation. Chara and Boychuk would be the most effective shutdown duo in the playoffs. But that wouldn’t make the second pairing as stout defensively. If Hamilton assumes top-pairing duty, Boychuk’s experience and physical presence would beef up the second duo.
Hamilton has taken shifts with all three left-shot defensemen. “I think everyone’s good,” Hamilton said. “Everyone knows the system. Everyone kind of plays similar. It makes it easier to be able to play with other guys.”
Score a goal. Win more faceoffs. Be stronger in the defensive zone.
Those are all things Ryan Spooner (no goals, 11 assists) has on his to-do list to stay with the varsity.
The Bruins have a decision to make with the second-year pro. Chris Kelly missed his 21st straight game Saturday. But Kelly is scheduled to practice Sunday on Long Island. Kelly could return Monday against the Islanders.
Kelly could return to his third-line center position, between Carl Soderberg and Loui Eriksson. That would leave Spooner out of the picture, perhaps back in Providence.
Spooner’s straight-line speed and playmaking touch are better than Kelly’s offensive abilities. But Kelly’s experience, strength on the draw, and defensive coverage make him a better fit for the grinding games remaining on the schedule. Kelly’s won 48 percent of his faceoffs. Spooner has a 41 percent winning percentage.
“Mentally, I’ve just got to bear down a little more,” Spooner said of faceoffs. “Just go from there. Strengthwise, I obviously need to catch up a little in that department. Besides that, I just have to be honest with myself and be better on faceoffs.”
Spooner didn’t play against the Flyers because he was sick.
Meszaros a target?
The Flyers started the season with a 1-7-0 record, which cost coach Peter Laviolette his job, but they scratched back into contention in the playoff chase. But the Flyers are 0-3-1 in their last four games. If they continue to struggle, they could become sellers before the March 5 trade deadline.
If Philadelphia general manager Paul Holmgren decides to trade off parts, the Bruins could take a look at Andrej Meszaros. The 28-year-old fits the Bruins’ profile: a left-shot defenseman on an expiring contract. Meszaros’s best production is behind him. But he would be a cheaper acquisition than Andrew MacDonald, Chris Phillips, and Henrik Tallinder, three of the defensemen atop the Bruins’ wish list. Meszaros would be a depth defenseman for the Bruins. He was a healthy scratch Saturday.
Caron gets in
Soderberg moved from left wing to center. Daniel Paille moved up to play left wing on the third line. Jordan Caron was the fourth-line left wing. Caron hadn’t played since Jan. 2. Caron left the game in the third when he was high-sticked by Nicklas Grossman. But he returned and finished the game . . . Vincent Lecavalier lost 16 of 19 faceoffs, including all eight he took against Patrice Bergeron . . . Jarome Iginla and David Krejci assisted on both of Chara’s power-play goals . . . Boychuk fought Hartnell and Gregory Campbell tangled with Luke Schenn in the second period.Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at email@example.com.