SUNRISE, Fla. — On Thursday at Tampa Bay Times Forum, Dougie Hamilton recorded two assists in the Bruins’ 4-2 win over the Lightning. He leads all Boston defensemen with 8 points.
But Hamilton played only 10:00, including only 2:08 in the third period, when the coaching staff played mostly five defensemen against the Lightning’s high-powered attack.
Hamilton is just 19 years old, and most defensemen his age don’t get close to an NHL rink.
So while being benched isn’t fun, he understands why a five-D rotation can make sense late in games.
“Obviously you want to be playing,” the rookie said. “But at the same time, I’m still 19. Our D are really good on our team. We’re protecting a lead. If that’s what it takes to win, that’s fine with me. It doesn’t really matter if we’re winning games.”
Thursday’s situation was the latest in Hamilton’s development as a first-year pro. Currently, his best assets are his vision, puck-moving sharpness, and offensive awareness. Hamilton displayed all three against the Lightning.
But, as expected of junior-age defensemen, Hamilton is still learning the trickier aspects of positioning and net-front engagement. Considering the 48-game schedule and the importance of 2-point results, occasionally reducing Hamilton’s ice time is, for coach Claude Julien, an easy decision.
“It’s part of the growing process of a young player,” Julien said. “He came in and had a real strong start. He’s still playing well for us. But teams are getting better. Players are getting a little bit better. Guys that hadn’t played are finding their groove.
“At the same time, defensively, it’s a totally different game than he’s been used to playing. He’s playing against men here. There’s some strong individuals. There’s things you can get away with in junior hockey that you can’t here.
“That’s what I’ve always told our players. At this level here, everybody has the talent to play and has the capability of being here. What makes the difference between them and others, or our team and other teams, is how well you do the little things.
“That’s what we’re trying to teach him now. Those little things make a big difference in a game.”
In Thursday’s first period, Tampa’s Victor Hedman busted up a Bruins rush. The puck skittered out to Hamilton at the right point, and he didn’t hesitate. Hamilton ripped a one-timer that goalie Anders Lindback booted out to Nathan Horton’s blade. Horton had an easy tuck-in for the game’s first goal.
In the third period, Hamilton made an even slicker play. David Krejci fed him the puck at the right point. Hamilton read that Tom Pyatt was filling the shooting lane. To Hamilton’s left, Zdeno Chara was open with a better shooting angle. As soon as Hamilton received Krejci’s pass, he dished it to Chara. In turn, Chara sent Horton a slap pass that the right wing tipped into the net.
“I probably could have shot it,” Hamilton said. “But I saw Z over there. I knew right away that he was open and he could shoot that. I just put it over there as quickly as I could.”
Hamilton’s first goal against was the one he could have played better.
He battled in front with Teddy Purcell, who had the puck. Had Hamilton been able to eliminate Purcell, the Lightning might not have had a scoring chance.
Instead, Purcell gained separation and passed to Steven Stamkos in the high slot. Stamkos buried his shot for Tampa’s first goal.
Julien was quick to point out that Hamilton wasn’t the only player to make a mistake on Stamkos’s goal. Marc-Andre Bergeron won a puck battle against Tyler Seguin on the left-side wall. Bergeron then slid a cross-ice pass to Purcell. Had Brad Marchand been strong on the backcheck, he could have stripped Purcell. But Marchand was weak on his stick, which freed Purcell to pass to Stamkos.
“There was a lost battle along the boards,” said Julien. “The winger coming back just takes a swipe at the puck instead of going right at the man and taking the puck away.
“Because Dougie’s there, all eyes are on Dougie. When we look at the video, we certainly don’t look at Dougie. We look at more than Dougie. There were two guys who could have done a lot better before that goal was scored.”
Working on it
The Bruins worked on their defensive-zone wall play in Saturday’s practice at the BB&T Center. Stamkos’s goal was the latest evidence for the coaching staff in identifying a slippage in the team’s game. “Too many times, we get rid of the puck instead of making strong plays or eating it,” Julien said. “So we’re addressing that right now.” . . . The Bruins are 10-2-2 through 14 games. Their results, however, do not reflect their overall play. “I think there’s still a lot of room for improvement on our hockey team,” Julien said. “If you look at individuals, there’s a lot of guys that can play better. When that comes, that’s going to make us a better team.” . . . The Bruins said the BB&T ice was much better than the sheet in Tampa . . . Florida winger Alex Kovalev turns 40 on Sunday. Kovalev played for Julien in Montreal.Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto.