TAMPA BAY, FL - As the Bruins head into a match-up with the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night, the rotation of seven defensemen on the Bruins has seen Matt Bartkowski, Dougie Hamilton and Adam McQuaid as healthy scratches so far this season.
McQuaid was the scratch on Thursday against the Florida Panthers, with Hamilton getting back into the lineup after a two-game layoff. It was the first game with Hamilton, Bartkowski and Torey Krug all in the lineup together.
"You saw that against the Rangers, those young guys came in and skated well, but yet where we suffer a little bit is defensively," Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien said following the B's practice in Tampa on Friday.
"And when you have a guy like Adam McQuaid who is pretty solid defensively, those guys aren’t as good as he is on the defensive side of it. So it’s a situation where you kind of weigh the pros and cons and you make those decisions as you go game by game."
"There’s a good chance [Adam will] be back in the lineup [Saturday night] as well. So he’s a veteran, I know it’s a little tougher for veterans, but we got some good young players and we can’t just go and pull those guys out because you’re going to be pulling the same guys out all the time."
Prior to the season, and amidst the B's first six games, Julien has stressed that choosing which blueliner to sit out does not often comes as a result of play; it's mostly based on "rust" and keeping everyone fresh.
"Certain guys have to sit out yet it has nothing to do with their game more than it has something to do with the numbers," he said. "So we’ve been clear with our players about that."
"As much as they don’t like it, and I don’t blame them for it, it’s just the situations that’s there and you have to move on here and it’s so important that they stay on top of their game and stay focused and when they get a chance to go in, continue to play well."
As we move forward in the season, the decisions will continue for each game.
"It doesn’t get easier and the thing is, probably the biggest challenge for a coach is that you don’t want to have to explain every time something happens," said Julien of the conversations with the healthy scratches.
"I think it’s pretty clear to everybody that we’re moving guys around to keep everybody sharp and I’m not going to tell a guy ‘you’re not playing tonight’ and sit down for 15 minutes to start explaining myself."
"They know what the situation is and that’s what you do. So I think it doesn’t get any easier but you have to think about it every game – what’s the best situation for this game or the next game and you make those decisions."
Julien also has to exercise patience with the rotation, as the trio of Hamilton, Krug and Bartkowski continues to grow into their full-time NHL player roles.
"You’ve got some young D’s in your lineup – you have three of them that are in basically their first full year and we need some better sticks out there and sticks on pucks," said Julien, of improvements to make in the lapse defensive coverage over the past two games, despite the 3-2 win over the Panthers on Thursday.
"Some of those [Florida] scoring chances were coming from maybe a little bit of a combination of both better sticks and some youth there. So the only way we’re going to get better is by letting them play and helping them through those kind of corrections."