Bruins

Hamilton continues to impress vs. Rangers

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Hamilton continues to impress vs. Rangers

NEW YORK It took 12 attempts, but the Bruins power play finally struck gold on Wednesday night against the Rangers. It was the first goal of the game for Boston in the second period that finally breathed some life back into the B's, and the only goal scored in five chances on the man advantage in their 4-3 overtime loss.

It was more than that, though. The goal was another example of the growing legend of 19-year-old Dougie Hamilton, who seems to keep getting better with each passing game and showing more of what can do with the puck.

"He's very good. I didn't realize how offensively talented he was," said Brad Marchand, who deflected Hamilton's shot past Henrik Lundqvist. "He came in and he's quarterbacking our power play and making so many of the right plays. The one thing I've noticed is that he's getting so many pucks through traffic and he's finding a lane. That's what he did on that first goal."

There are still hiccups, of course.

In the first period, Hamilton wandered far away from the net as Rangers attackers were foraging deep into the Boston zone, and was nowhere close to where he needed to be as Marian Gaborik slammed a rebound of a Michael Del Zotto shot past Tuukka Rask.

The rookie was out of position and looked shaky for parts of the first period, as to be expected in his rookie season during a big spot on the road. But the 6-foot-5 hockey prospect shaped up his game in the final two periods as the rest of the Bruins pushed back against the Rangers.

Hamilton led the Bruins with four shots on goal and exhibited the kind of poise only special players possess in the NHL during their formative teenage years.

Hamilton fired a puck from the high slot into heavy traffic during the successful power play, and Marchand was able to tip the shot past King Henrik for Bostons first goal. The scoring sequence allowed the Bruins to say theyre now 1-for-14 on the power play this season, and also marked Hamiltons first NHL point as a PP assist.

To the surprise of nobody, Hamilton thought the honor was pretty neat given the circumstances of a fresh-faced rookie playing against some tough NHL customers in their building.

Is it something hell always remember?

"I think so . . . yeah," Hamilton said. "With it being a road game it was cool to be here. Its nice to be able to get that assist, but losing still sucks though."

Everything Hamilton is doing continues to impress Bruins officials. There is nothing that sucks about him.

The young defenseman played with Andrew Ference as a pairing, and it marked the third straight different defensive partner hes had in three games -- first with Dennis Seidenberg, then Chara and now Ference. Hamilton was walking the blue line while dangling the puck like a master tightrope walker on power play point, and on several occasions later in the game turned up the offensive pressure by attacking the net when he thought his team might need it.

Those are the kinds of things nobody has seen a defenseman do in a Spoked B sweater in a long, long time.

Anybody who watched the game tonight had to see that this guy was outstanding, said Claude Julien talking about his rookie. Hes not just good, but outstanding. He was so poised and confident. If anybody thinks that this kid cant play in this league then they need to take a look at this game.

I really, really liked his game. Its not just defensively, either. Its offensive, too. He made a great play on the power play and then on the first few seconds of regulation hes so poised with the puck rather than turning it over. I dont know what more to say about him, but I think his teammates are seeing the Dougie Hamilton that everybody is projecting. Were going to make sure to keep his confidence up.

The pressure now goes to the rest of the Bs power play unit with Hamilton beginning to find his offensive range. The first team struggled to keep the puck in the zone, acted passively when they had the puck in the offensive zone and consistently chose poorly when given the choice between shooting or passing the puck around.

So a change in mindset is still important, and results even more so.

"Poise "was one of the big adjectives used to describe Hamilton with regard to other rookies, and there doesnt seem to be a limit to what he can do. He showed good creativity in a series of one-man rushes into the attack zone later in the game, and said he opened up his game "because his team needed a goal in the third period."

There was also a simple play at the end of regulation where Hamilton flipped the puck high up in the air away from danger as the seconds ticked down at MSG.

Thats exactly the kind of cunning a reed-thin 19-year-old hockey prospect can utilize as a great strength in his first tour around the NHL, and something that doesn't go unnoticed by a B's coaching staff that appreciates smart play whether it's a 19-year-old or a 39-year-old making the smart hockey play.

Rask out tonight as he recovers from practice collision

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Rask out tonight as he recovers from practice collision

BRIGHTON, Mass – The string of injuries for the Bruins continues as Tuukka Rask (upper body) is out for tonight’s game against the Vancouver Canucks at TD Garden after getting trucked by Anders Bjork in practice Wednesday.

Rask was wobbly-legged while being helped off the ice after the violent collision and the 21-year-old Bjork looked like he’d also needed a couple of stitches on his chin after bloodying his practice jersey.

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The big concern is Rask still being evaluated by Bruins medical personnel for a possible concussion. It will be Anton Khudobin stepping in place for him against the Canucks with Providence Bruins netminder Zane McIntyre serving as his backup.

“Tuukka is out tonight. He’s going to get reevaluated today and we’ll have a better idea tomorrow,” said Bruce Cassidy. “Anton will start [against the Canucks].”

Clearly, Khudobin didn’t like seeing his goaltending partner get drilled in a spirited practice, but the 32-year-old is clearly feeling confident after a strong camp and a winning season debut last week against the Arizona Coyotes.

“You don’t want to see that, but at the same time we’ve got to keep moving forward and hopefully he’s going to get better soon,” said Khudobin, who stopped 29-of-31 shots in the win over Arizona last weekend. “I feel good. Camp was good and everything is fine, and I’ve started better than last year. My role is just day-to-day. Today is a game day and hopefully, you get a good result, and then tomorrow is another new day.”

Otherwise, it looks like the Bruins will at least be getting some of their healthy bodies back with David Backes in the lineup and Patrice Bergeron a game-time decision against the Canucks. Here are the projected line combos and D-pairings based on Wednesday’s practice:

Marchand-Bergeron-Bjork
DeBrusk-Krejci-Pastrnak
Schaller-Kuraly-Backes
Beleskey-Nash-Agostino
 
Chara-McAvoy
Miller-Carlo
Krug-McQuaid

Khudobin 

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Bruins shuffling the deck looking for answers up front

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Bruins shuffling the deck looking for answers up front

BRIGHTON, Mass – It would appear that Bruce Cassidy is ready to start shuffling the deck up front after a slow start to the season.

With the Bruins ranking among the league’s worst both offensively and defensively just a handful of games into the season, they are both introducing a few new forwards to the mix while hoping for full health to a couple of other ones. 

First off, the Bruins appear that they might get David Backes back for Thursday night’s game against the Vancouver Canucks after his bout with diverticulitis, supplying some badly needed size, strength and net-front tenacity on the wing. Patrice Bergeron (lower body) might not be too far behind after going through a full practice wearing a no-contact jersey. The return of No. 37 would help in any number of different areas once he’s good to go, and would have a cascade effect on the rest of the forwards.  

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Getting both players back in short order would give the Bruins a toughness around the net that was certainly missing against Malcolm Subban and the Golden Knights, and hasn’t been there consistently this season with No. 37 and No. 42 out of commission.

“[Bergeron] is progressing. In the past we’ve ruled him out ahead of time, but we’re not ruling him out for [Thursday vs. the Canucks]. Backes looks closer to being ready to play,” said Bruce Cassidy. “Some of the games that have gotten away from us, those guys are glue guys that really add that element to us to keep us on the rails without the game getting away. Some nights you just need their offense or some hard defending, and you miss their leadership obviously. They’re all good players, but most of them you know they’re bringing that North/South game and a few good shifts here or there could have got us back on track.

“[Bergeron] is underrated in his ability to get to the front of the net especially with Marchand and Pastrnak on his wings. So we miss that part of it: Getting there on time, making plays and finishing off plays. Backes is just a big body there and you certainly miss that part of it. With Vegas the other night that was one of the biggest things we were missing was getting second chances, shooting for second chances, hitting the net and getting those rebound chances against a team that was harder to get inside on.

A few moves on Wednesday might also suggest some on-the-fly changes with some forwards that haven’t been working out with the Black and Gold. Ryan Spooner suffered a lower-body injury on Sunday night against Vegas, and it sounds like it might not be a short-term injury for the center with just one point in his first five games. Matt Beleskey and Frank Vatrano also haven’t produced much in the first couple of weeks of the season, and could be in danger of losing roster spots to Providence call-ups Kenny Agostino and Peter Cehlarik.  

Both players were late cuts from training camp and were showing the blend of size, strength, skill, experience and production that Boston needs more of as they search for answers among their forward group. Beleskey, Spooner and Vatrano have combined for one point, a minus-6 rating and just 12 shots on net in a combined 14 games this season, so clearly that is one of the first spots to look for upgrading the roster from within.

“[A tryout period] is a good way to put it. We talked about that in training camp when we had a long look at guys, but not Cehlarik because he didn’t get a chance to play [because of shoulder surgery]. He obviously piqued our interest last year and did a lot of good things for us,” said Cassidy, who has been in a state of constant flux putting forward lines together due to injury and ineffectiveness. “We just went in a different direction at the trade deadline, but we brought him up to give him a look. We have a decision tomorrow and I’m not going to say whether [Cehlarik] is in or out.

“He’s really played well in Providence, and we just thought he might be able to help us. Some of it may depend on the health of the other guys as far as who’s in and who’s out. If both Cehlarik and Agostino are both in the lineup there’s a chance [they might play together]. They were with [Riley] Nash today in the middle, and he has some of the same qualities as JFK down in Providence. But until we sort through who’s in for tomorrow, and that starts at the top with Bergeron and Backes, then stuff will fall into place for all of them.”

Depending on how Don Sweeney plays with his 23-roster spots, perhaps the time has come to put one of those players on waivers for a trip to the AHL. Simply based on merit it would be Vatrano and the total nothingness he’s shown in his first four games this season, but there would also be a legitimate concern they’d lose the 23-year-old Massachusetts native on waivers for nothing.

For their part, players like Agostino and Cehlarik ripped up the AHL while teamed with Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson in Providence, and were just looking for their chance to carve out a role in Boston. Now they may get their chance based on others not really grasping their opportunity, and they’re ready if that’s the case.

“It’s encouraging for me, but I’m just taking things day-by-day. I’m not looking past anything and I’m looking in the past. I just take things as they come here,” said Agostino, who leads the Bruins two goals and seven points in three games thus far. “This isn’t my first time [up at the NHL], so I’m just going to do whatever I can to make the best impression possible.”

What if Agostino and Cehlarik, a career AHL player and a former third-round pick, can’t make the impact that the Bruins are looking for?

Hopefully by then the Bruins will at least have their top two lines healthy and firing on all cylinders, and can continue to mix and match things in the bottom six until they find a combination of forwards that work. But it may come to a point where the Bruins need to look outside the organization for an impact forward or two, or at least find somebody that can make an impact on the ice rather than will themselves invisible.

Only Beleskey has been at all effective this season as he’s dropped the gloves and played physical at times, and certainly can still be an effective third or fourth liner with the right players skating alongside him. For those reasons along with the massive contract money still owed him, Beleskey should be given every opportunity to succeed in Boston. But one thing is clear at this point: There is too much dead weight on the Bruins roster right now at the forward position, and something needs to be done about it if they hope to pull themselves out of their early-season funk.   

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