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Bruins might have to rely on Matt Bartkowski again 02.26.15 at 9:30 pm ET
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Matt Bartkowski

Matt Bartkowski

When asked Thursday what he learned from last postseason, Matt Bartkowski brought up an expression that Providence coach Bruce Cassidy tells his players.

“If you don’€™t bring your A game,” Bartkowski said, “œyou’€™ve got to bring your B game.”€

That might not fit any player better than it does Bartkowski. Ups and downs and ins and outs are pretty much all he knows at the NHL level. Getting into the Bruins’€™ lineup has been tough, and when he’€™s played he’€™s been the ultimate trick-or-treat player. Now the Bruins might need him again.

Defense has arguably been the Bruins’€™ biggest need all season, and that was before the B’€™s lost Kevan Miller to season-ending shoulder surgery. After serving as a healthy scratch for a month and a half (17 straight games), Bartkowski was given a game against Calgary during the Bruins’€™ recent road trip and stuck in the lineup after Miller went down.

A trade (or a callup of Joe Morrow) could change things, but for now Bartkowski finds himself in a similar situation as last season. He could be in line to play a top-four role down the stretch, as he did last season when Dennis Seidenberg went down in late December and the Bruins couldn’€™t adequately replace him via trade. Perhaps because the Bruins would rather Torey Krug stay on the third pairing, Bartkowski is almost always used as a top-four player when he is in the lineup.

While an upgrade to Boston’€™s second pairing (Bartkowski-Seidenberg) is needed for the Bruins to make a deep run, Bartkowski’€™s last few games have suggested he’€™ll fare better in the spot than he did earlier in the season, when he and Seidenberg turned in some especially ugly games, including one in which Bartkowski’€™s positioning cost the B’€™s a game against the Avalanche in the final second on a Daniel Briere goal.

It’€™s odd that Bartkowski has looked fine after not playing for a month given that he was a disaster at the beginning of the season, when one would thing he would be physically sharper. Bartkowski himself finds it puzzling, but his priority is keeping his play where it is.b

“To start the year, I wasn’€™t playing well at all, and then when I got in right before the California swing, I started to play well, and then out again,”€ he said. “€œI don’€™t know. It just came around. I’€™m playing like myself again.”

Claude Julien said that while Bartkowski was out of the lineup, the team had him fine-tune things that have left him better equipped now than he was before. Asked what specifically, Julien replied ‘€œa lot of everything.’€

“A lot in all different areas. Sometimes you know you’€™re a natural skater, which I think he is, and you think you can get away with that,”€ Julien said.”But it takes a little bit more than that. You’€™ve got to be prepared as a player. Are you mentally prepared to make plays? Are you ready to put the time in? To be in good shape is one thing; to be in great shape is another.”€

Bartkowski’€™s experience in this role ended the wrong way last year. After Andrej Meszaros was brought in to challenge him, Bartkowski got sick and missed the beginning of the playoffs. When he came back, he was off his game. Meszaros wasn’€™t any better, and the Bruins were forced into a rotation of struggling defensemen playing important games.

“It was just more inconsistent in the playoffs,”€ he recalled. “There was like a good [game], a really bad one, a good one, a really bad one. That just can’€™t happen again.”

The next few days will say a lot about what Bartkowski’€™s role with the Bruins will be going forward, assuming he isn’€™t traded. Forcing their seventh defenseman to play big minutes hurt the team last season, but if it happens again, Bartkowski thinks that with health and improved play, he can handle the job.

“This year, I’€™m gonna hold my spot,” Bartkowski said. “I want to stay consistent. I don’€™t want to have any dips at all.”

That’€™s the right attitude to have, but it’€™s always been easier said than done with Bartkowski and the Bruins.

Read More: Kevan Miller, Matt Bartkowski,
Matt Bartkowski avoids supplemental discipline for hit on Brian Gionta 12.22.14 at 1:05 pm ET
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Matt Bartkowski

Matt Bartkowski

Matt Bartkowski was not given any supplemental discipline for a hit to Sabres captain Brian Gionta that earned him a game misconduct Sunday night.

The NHL Department of Player Safety explained their decision not to punish the Boston defenseman in a series of tweets Monday, calling the hit “œincidental head contact.”

After Monday’€™s practice, Bartkowski said that he didn’€™t feel the hit was worthy of a suspension.

“It’€™s just a play in the game. You don’€™t like to see players leave the game,” he said. “It’€™s not like it was my intent to injure anybody. It was just a hit, so that’€™s about it.”

Bartkowski had to answer for the hit immediately, dropping the gloves with Marcus Foligno for his first career NHL fight. He said that after leaving the game due to the misconduct, he was more focused on the call than concerned with being suspended.

“I was just pissed that I had to leave the game,” Bartkowski said. “I don’€™t know. I didn’€™t think it was worthy of [a misconduct]. I was just more pissed about that for quite a while.”

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Read More: Matt Bartkowski,
Injuries mean jobs: Bruins’ young defensemen should seize moment like those before them 11.20.14 at 3:14 pm ET
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Joseph Morrow

Joe Morrow

Peter Chiarelli will probably never say how many NHL defensemen he thinks he has again.

Since saying that he felt he had nine this offseason, the number has been tested significantly. After trading one of them in Johnny Boychuk, Chiarelli has seen five of his defensemen get hurt in the first 20 games of the season. Of the nine NHL-caliber defensemen Chiarelli said he felt the Bruins possessed, the only three who haven’€™t suffered an injury this season have been Dennis Seidenberg, Dougie Hamilton and Matt Bartkowski.

That is rough, rough stuff for the Bruins, but it does allow that list of NHL defensemen to get longer. Games played as injury replacements have been the avenue to the NHL for many of Boston’€™s young defensemen, with Hamilton really the only one who was actually given a job to begin his NHL career.

Adam McQuaid filled in for an injured Mark Stuart and took his job in 2011. Torey Krug and Matt Bartkowski earned their sweaters in the 2013 postseason. Kevan Miller and Zach Trotman got their feet wet a season ago with injuries to various blueliners, while Joe Morrow initially came up to replace the struggling Bartkowski this season but will remain in the lineup in part because of Boston’€™s ailing back end.

Krug thinks that’€™s a respectable way to become an NHL player. He feels jumping in to replace a hurt player leaves less room for thinking, which is a good way to avoid mistakes for a young player.

“It doesn’€™t leave you time to think about what could happen or what could go wrong, because you’€™re the only option,”€ he said. “€œThey’€™re putting you in the game and you’€™ve just got to go out and do your thing. All the guys that have gone out and done so so far have taken the right mindset.

“€œThat’€™s the only reason I’€™m here right now, is because there was an opportunity with a couple guys hurt in the playoffs, and I [made] the best of it. I think these guys are doing a good job of taking these opportunities and running with it. It’€™s fun when you earn things like that.”

McQuaid had gotten off to a very encouraging start to this season coming off an injury-plagued 2013-14 campaign that saw him dress in only 30 games. With a broken thumb putting his season on hold for 6-8 weeks, the Bruins have to go back to their group of young defensemen for bigger and tougher minutes.

That won’€™t be easy, but given the job that Miller did replacing him last season and the play they’€™ve gotten from other young blueliners, the Bruins are confident they can handle the loss.

“€œIs it a silver lining? It is in a way because we really felt we had some good depth on the back end,”€ Claude Julien said. “I think it’€™s showing now. Whoever we bring up seems to be doing a decent job. A lot of guys that are here now are going to make it difficult for us when it’€™s all said and done. There’€™s a pretty good competition going again on our back end.”

Morrow, a 2011 first-round pick, has proven to be a better NHL player than he was an AHL player. Trotman, meanwhile, was replaced by Bartkowski on Saturday and eventually sent to Providence, but now he’€™s back with the NHL club. Neither player was on Chiarelli’€™s unofficial list of nine this summer, but they can add their names to it with strong performances.

Given their injuries, the Bruins’€™ list of NHL-caliber defensemen isn’€™t anything like what it was in the offseason, but as players return to the lineup, the B’€™s could eventually find themselves at a point where they have more guys capable of handling NHL minutes than they did immediately after trading Boychuk.

“I think that number’€™s grown,”€ Krug said. “€œYou’€™re witnessing Joe come in and do a great job, and Trots is getting the experience and he’€™s doing well. I think that number’€™s getting higher and higher. Hopefully at some point, we have that many guys that the coaching staff has to make a decision who to play.”

Read More: Joe Morrow, Kevan Miller, Matt Bartkowski, Torey Krug
Matt Bartkowski’s mostly good return to lineup highlights small margin for error 11.15.14 at 5:54 pm ET
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Matt Bartkowski

Matt Bartkowski

Matt Bartkowski made one mistake that could have been costly. Early in the second period, with the Bruins leading Carolina 2-1, Bartkowski turned the puck over to Chris Terry just inside his own blue line. Terry led a quick 2-on-1 and tried to center for Jeff Skinner, who wound up redirecting an aerial pass over the net.

Aside from that one play, Bartkowski’s return to the lineup following seven straight healthy scratches was a good one. He was effective on breakouts. He got involved in the offensive zone and wound up with four shots on goal, tied for the team lead in the game. He was physical, most notably landing a big, clean hit on Patrick Dwyer midway through the second. His plus-3 Corsi was the best among Bruins defensemen in the game.

“I think I did alright for how much time I sat out,” Bartkowski said. “I was moving. I didn’t really give them too much, a few chances, but other than that it went pretty well.”

In many ways, Saturday’s game was a good representation of Bartkowski as a whole. There has always been quite a bit to like about Bartkowski’s game, namely his skating, puck movement in transition and ability to win battles down low.

Let’s not forget that Bartkowski was a top-four defenseman for a stretch during the 2013 playoffs and then for most of last season, and that he was at least serviceable in that role. There’s a reason he got those minutes over other options — because he was better-equipped to handle them.

But there have always been those mistakes, too. They started to reach a breaking point in last year’s playoffs, when he wound up being a healthy scratch in favor of Andrej Meszaros four times in 12 games. Then they continued into this season, and Bartkowski found himself watching from the press box as less experienced players like Joe Morrow, Zach Trotman and David Warsofsky were given a look.

Bartkowski said he didn’t work on any one thing in particular while he was out of the lineup and instead just tried to work hard and stay positive.

“Just worked hard in practice, worked hard on the bike, in the weight room,” Bartkowski said. “That’s about it. … Just playing hockey, that’s all it is. And just focused on staying in game shape.”

Bartkowski playing well can help the Bruins’ back end more than Morrow or Trotman. He could even get back into the top four (for what it’s worth, he was sixth among Bruins defensemen in ice time on Saturday). But he needs to cut down on the mistakes. An occasional mistake is understandable, but if they happen every night, Claude Julien may be forced to bench him again.

Even a mistake like Saturday’s — just one in an otherwise good game — is pushing it. What if the Hurricanes had converted on that 2-on-1 and tied the game? The rest of Bartkowski’s good game would have been completely forgotten and that mistake would have been the story of the game if the Bruins went on to drop a point or two.

It’s a thin line for Bartkowski right now, and that what-if scenario from Saturday highlights just how thin it is.

Read More: Matt Bartkowski,
Switch to Joe Morrow a big reason why Bruins have survived without Zdeno Chara 11.11.14 at 1:07 pm ET
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Joseph Morrow

Joe Morrow

WILMINGTON — The Bruins are now 6-1-0 without Zdeno Chara. They’€™re also 5-0-0 with Joe Morrow in the lineup instead of Matt Bartkowski.

The latter point isn’€™t a shot at Bartkowski, a good player whose struggles with his game and his confidence led him to the press box for the time being, but it does tell part of the story as to why the Bruins have improved defensively over the course of this stretch without their best defenseman.

Paired with Adam McQuaid, Morrow, a 2011 first-round pick, has been safe. For a team that had been looking up to tighten up defensively, that’€™s all the B’€™s could have wanted. Like Bartkowski, Morrow is a good skater and passer, but Bartkowski’€™s decision-making and defensive coverage were uncharacteristically poor in his five games this season. The Bruins called up Morrow after the team’€™s Oct. 28 loss to the Wild to replace Bartkowski.

Decision-making was one of the questions attached to Morrow when the Bruins got him from the Stars as part of the Tyler Seguin trade. Peter Chiarelli said the day of the trade that the B’€™s would be patient with the twice-traded player and give him the proper AHL instruction. That potential red flag that has been mentioned at points of his two-year-plus AHL career has yet to pop up.

In fact, Morrow has been told by former coaches who have watched his short stint in the NHL — Providence coaches among them –€” that he is a better NHL player than he is an AHL player.

“I don’€™t know exactly what that means, but when you when you have the company of these players around you and that’€™s what you’€™re playing with, you kind of raise your game match theirs and to contribute,” Morrow said. “You don’€™t want to let anyone in the dressing room down. You know it’€™s really important to win up here, so you give that little extra effort.

“€œYeah, I think I have a more suitable style to the National Hockey League than I do to the American Hockey League, but I guess time will tell if that’€™s really true.”

His coaches and former coaches aren’€™t the only ones who have been satisfied with what Morrow’€™s brought to the table. Tuukka Rask said that Morrow has brought some defensive stability to the B’€™s.

“€œI think he’€™s been playing really good and improving every game,” Rask said of Morrow. “Especially the past couple of games, I’€™ve really liked the way he’€™s played and played defense and carried the puck up the ice.”

Rask pointed to a third-period play Monday against the Devils in which Morrow’€™s positioning allowed him to break up a potential back-door scoring opportunity and skate the puck to safety.

“Things like that that people might not see,”€ Rask said, “I see and try to give them credit for it.”

All in all, Rask likes the way the team has looked defensively of late.

“Really good. Really good,”€ Rask said of the Bruins’€™ play in their own zone. “We’€™re eliminating chances we kind of want to eliminate and making little plays around the net and taking their sticks away and stuff. It’€™s paid off lately. I feel like we’€™re really taking steps in the right direction.”

Bartkowski is a better player than he’€™s shown and he will be better if and when he gets more games. His absence, however, has allowed the Bruins to get a look at another young defender and enjoy stronger defensive efforts.

Read More: Joe Morrow, Matt Bartkowski,
Bruins hope Matt Bartkowski can dig himself out of hole 11.09.14 at 1:14 pm ET
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Matt Bartkowski

Matt Bartkowski

The Bruins can only hope they’€™ll go the rest of the season without being as banged up on defense as they are right now, but you have to think that they’€™ll need Matt Bartkowski at some point.

That time could come as early as Monday. Torey Krug is a possibility to return from a broken finger, but if he does not, the loss of David Warsofsky would require Bartkowski to return to the lineup after serving the last four games as a healthy scratch.

Unlike the rest of the absences among Boston’€™s blueliners, Bartkowski’€™s is due to performance. At the time that Krug went down with his injury, the Bruins called up Warsofsky and Joe Morrow from Providence; Warsofsky was brought up to spell Krug, while Morrow was recalled to replace a struggling Bartkowski.

After serving as a regular on Boston’€™s second pairing down the stretch last season, Bartkowski has taken a big step backwards, committing multiple on-ice errors that led directly to opposing goals. He was benched for much of the third period after being on the ice for his second goal against of the game against the Wild and has not played since.

At that point, Bartkowski admitted that he was struggling with confidence. If and when he gets back in the lineup, the B’€™s will hope that both his confidence and decision-making have improved.

“I don’€™t know if it’€™s just last year; we just know he’€™s good enough when he’€™s on top of his game to be a good player for us,” Claude Julien said. “He dug himself a hole and now he’€™s got to dig himself out of it. It starts in practice.”

Morrow has been fine in his first four NHL games thus far and hasn’€™t made a case to be taken out of the lineup. That will happen when other players such as Zdeno Chara and Kevan Miller return from their injuries, but it doesn’€™t seem Bartkowski would be able to wrest the job from Morrow for now.

It will take Krug remaining out for Bartkowski to get back in. If he does, Claude Julien hopes that Bartkowski has spent his time in the press box well.

“There’€™s two ways to look at it,” Julien said. “You can go there and mope and not make yourself better or you can go do what Matt Fraser did: watch and learn and then when you get your chance, take advantage of it. It doesn’€™t matter. A player should always want to play. He should be anxious to get the call, and when you’€™re called upon you should be ready to go.

“You only get so many chances, right? If you keep failing, you keep going back in the press box. It’€™s all about attitude. These guys are professionals. They’€™re paid to do this job and they’€™ve got to do it professional way.”

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Andy Brickley on MFB: ‘Maybe the [Patrice] Bergeron line needs a little change of scenery’ 10.29.14 at 1:26 pm ET
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Andy Brickley

Andy Brickley

NESN Bruins analyst Andy Brickley made his weekly appearance on Middays with MFB to discuss the Bruins’ disappointing start to the season. To hear the interview, go to the MFB audio on demand page.

The Bruins blew a two-goal lead and dropped a 4-3 decision to the Wild on Tuesday night, putting their record at 5-6 on the young season. Brickley said the team is “treading water,” evidenced by Tuesday’s performance.

“It was 3-1 after two periods, but the Bruins were not playing all that well,” Brickley said. “That score did not indicate that the Bruins were the better team through 40 minutes. There were just too many mistakes, lack of focus, poor decision-making, getting beat on the backcheck, the defense for Minnesota was jumping into the play. And every line was guilty, none more so than the [Patrice] Bergeron line.”

Brickley said coach Claude Julien might have to resort to mixing up lines in an attempt to jump-start the team.

“It’s that one step forward, one step back that has plagued this team this year, and that’s that lack of focus and the lack of compete and consistency, just not there. It’s really hard to understand, because the core group is together and should be well schooled in all these areas and understand what they have in front of them in terms of not wanting to chase it the first two months of the season and get too far behind in the standings.

“As a coach in these situations you try to emphasize the positive things when you think that’s the right approach. Sometimes you’ve got to call guys out — not in public, but certainly within the room. Claude right now is very frustrated on what he needs to do to get this team to play better. You may even have to see some line juggling. Maybe you keep that [Carl] Soderberg line together to give you the one constant. The way the [David] Krejci line produced last night, maybe you keep them together. But I don’t know, maybe the Bergeron line needs a little change of scenery because it’s not working right now.

“You could appeal to players’ sense of, you know, ‘We’ve got to win some hockey games here, boys, and we’ve got to play better and we’ve got to do the little things that make us a good team, and we’ve got to work together as five-man units,’ because they’re just not getting the results. It’s hard to explain, it’s hard to get your hands around. And that’s the challenge for the coaching staff right now.”

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Read More: Andy Brickley, Claude Julien, Matt Bartkowski, Patrice Bergeron
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