WILMINGTON, Mass. — The Boston Bruins have an uphill climb for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with nine games remaining in the regular season. That challenge became much tougher Tuesday when B’s head coach Claude Julien announced that top-pairing defenseman Dougie Hamilton is “out indefinitely” with an undisclosed injury.
Hamilton has been Boston’s best defenseman this season and had played in every game until he missed Sunday’s 5-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The 21-year-old defenseman is driving puck possession with a team-leading 54.91 Corsi percentage at even strength and also ranks second on the team in scoring with 42 points and first in assists with 32.
In addition to his scoring, Hamilton has opposed the second-toughest competition among B’s defensemen with 40-plus games played and averages 3:39 of special teams ice time (2:30 power play, 1:09 penalty kill) per game, the second-highest mark among the team’s blueliners.
Quite simply, no one on the Bruins blue line is going to fully replace Hamilton’s positive impact on puck possession and scoring production with top-pairing responsibilities.
With Hamilton out, Zach Trotman likely will remain in the lineup as a third-pairing defenseman. The 24-year-old blueliner, who was recalled Sunday on an emergency basis, has tallied four assists in 18 games for the Bruins this season. Trotman is being sheltered, as evidenced by his 63.8 offensive-zone start percentage at even strength, but he hasn’t been a liability defensively and adds much-needed size (6-foot-3, 219 pounds) and a right-hand shot to the blue line.
But the defensemen under the most pressure to play at a higher level in Hamilton’s absence are veterans Zdeno Chara, Adam McQuaid and Dennis Seidenberg. These players have the most experience and receive tougher zone starts and oppose better competition than Trotman, Krug and Matt Bartkowski. These veterans likely will see their ice time increase as a result of Hamilton’s injury, too.
It doesn’t matter which method you use to measure success (regular stats, analytics and/or the eye test), this season, for the most part, has been a struggle for Seidenberg and McQuaid. Chara has posted respectable scoring totals and solid possession numbers despite suffering a knee injury in October, but it’s clear that he isn’t at 100 percent.
The Bruins have allowed their opponents to control the majority of even-strength shot attempts (51.2 percent) and scoring chances (53.4 percent) over the last 10 games, per War on Ice. The B’s still managed to go 5-3-2 over that span because Tuukka Rask, who started eight of those games, posted a .932 save percentage.
Rask should continue to play at a high level, but making his job a little easier would be a huge help, especially with several high-scoring teams remaining on the Bruins’ schedule.
Boston is one point out of a playoff spot with just nine regular-season games remaining. Scoring is still an issue, but the one part of the team that cannot suffer over the next three weeks is the blue line. A couple more subpar defensive performances, such as the one seen in Sunday’s loss to the Lightning, could result in the Bruins missing the playoffs for the first time since 2006-07.
Thumbnail photo via Timothy T. Ludwig/USA TODAY Sports Images
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