Series-changers: Young defensemen Dougie Hamilton, Torey Krug show their best in first round
|04.26.14 at 11:07 pm ET|
The goals stand out. Dougie Hamilton went end to end before sniping the top corner in Game 3. Torey Krug ripped a slap shot past Jonas Gustavsson right off a faceoff in Game 4.
Some of the assists stand out, too. Hamilton led a breakout and then made a beautiful pass through center ice to Milan Lucic to help set up a goal in Game 4. He put together another end-to-end rush in Saturday’s Game 5 that led to a Loui Eriksson goal.
Krug made a nice breakout pass to Lucic back in Game 2 that led to a goal. On Saturday, he picked off a pass at the offensive blue line and set up Lucic (think he likes playing with these guys?) for the goal that proved to be the game-winner.
But Hamilton and Krug’s excellence in the Bruins’ series win over the Red Wings goes beyond those highlights. The young, offensively-gifted defensemen could have had even more than the four and five points they posted, respectively, because they helped create more than just nine scoring chances.
What about that post Hamilton hit in Game 3? How about that open net that Brad Marchand somehow missed after Krug gave him a perfect pass in Game 4? Oh, and Hamilton and Krug were each on the ice for just one goal against.
Throughout the series, the dynamic youngsters made breakouts look easy. They made leading rushes look easy. And they made creating scoring chances look easy.
Here’s the thing, though: those things aren’t easy. But this is what Hamilton and Krug can do when they’re playing their best hockey. They use their skating and vision to turn breakouts into offensive rushes. They keep plays alive in the offensive zone and hold the puck until they find an open teammate. They get their shots through and aren’t afraid to really step into one if they have the space. And they do it without getting caught up ice.
That last part is key. Hamilton and Krug were gifted offensive players before they even got to Boston. The Bruins have always encouraged them to use those gifts, but Hamilton and Krug had to learn when to use them. Against Detroit, they almost always picked the perfect spots.
“Personally, if you look at times that I have jumped up in the play from the beginning of the season until now, I think the coaches will be a lot happier with my decisions,” Krug said. “My teammates as well. It’s a whole team effort when you are making decisions to jump up into the play. It’s because you have confidence in your guys to support you and back you up.”
It’s been a process, to say the least. Hamilton and Krug made mistakes. They tried to do too much. They turned pucks over. They skated when they should have passed. They forced passes when they had room to skate. Sometimes those mistakes didn’t lead to anything. Sometimes they led to chances that required a bailout from Tuukka Rask. And sometimes they ended up in the back of the Bruins net.
Regardless of the result, Hamilton and Krug learned from all those mistakes. They watched them on video. They recreated those troublesome situations in practice. And over time, they got better at assessing those situations on the fly and knowing when to jump in and when to fall back, when to skate and when to pass, when to shoot and when to hold.
Their defensive play got better, too. They learned gap control against the best forwards in the world. They learned body positioning in the corners and along the boards. They got stronger and more physical.
“That’s what they learn throughout the season,” Claude Julien said. “There were times when they did get caught, and I have a lot of clips of that if you want to see. But that’s how they learn. You have to teach along the way. Because they were allowed to do that, sometimes you learn from your mistakes and get better.
“So every day these guys spend time looking at their shifts, and we spend time teaching them the right time to go and not to stay in there too long and when to come back out. They’re young players who are getting better all the time. They have learned, so that is to their credit.”
Neither Hamilton nor Krug is a perfect player. They both still have plenty to learn. Krug’s defensive game is much better than it was at the beginning of the year, but it still needs work. There’s a reason he had the highest offensive-zone start percentage and lowest quality of competition of any Bruins defenseman this season. And while he wasn’t quite as sheltered down the stretch, the Bruins aren’t exactly using him in a shutdown role any time soon.
Hamilton is a more well-rounded player right now, and has been used in tougher situations as a result. He faced the second-highest quality of competition of any Bruins blue-liner this season, a trend that continued in the first round of the playoffs. Most importantly, he excelled in those tough minutes, leading all B’s defensemen with a 56.7 Corsi-for percentage. But Hamilton’s ceiling isn’t “very good defenseman” (which he already is); it’s “bona fide No. 1 defenseman.”
“He’s a very important part of this team,” Krug said of Hamilton. “He steps up, he plays big minutes with [Zdeno Chara] against top lines. For a kid his age, it’s pretty impressive. He’s a big part of the team, and we’re very happy he’s bringing his best hockey right now. It’s a good time of the year for that.”
Hamilton and Krug will continue to get better as their careers advance, and that’s a scary thought for Bruins’ opponents. The young defensemen showed just how lethal they can be already against the Red Wings.
They were two of the Bruins’ top five scorers in the series, and they were each on the ice for just one goal against. They also served as the two quarterbacks (Krug on the first unit, Hamilton on the second) for a Bruins power play that went 6-for-16 (37.5 percent) in the series.
Simply put, they were game-changers, and by extension, series-changers. Chances are Hamilton and Krug will make mistakes at some point this postseason. But if they continue to play the way they played against Detroit, the positives will far outweigh any slip-ups.