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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.”

Read More: Matt Bartkowski,
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
Seth Griffith, Matt Bartkowski appear set to return to Bruins lineup vs. Sharks 10.21.14 at 12:20 pm ET
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Seth Griffith

Seth Griffith

Tuukka Rask was first goaltender off the ice at Tuesday’€™s morning skate, suggesting he’€™ll be between the pipes against the Sharks.

With Kevan Miller out, Matt Bartkowski is set to enter the lineup. The Bruins will play Torey Krug on the right side of the second pairing with Dennis Seidenberg.

Krug is a left shot, but he has experience playing the right side dating back to college. Seidenberg is also a lefty who can play both sides.

Matt Fraser appears to be the team’€™s healthy scratch on offense, as he rotated in on the fourth line but stayed on the ice later than his teammates.

The lines and pairings in morning skate were as follows:

Marchand – Bergeron – Smith
Lucic – Krejci – Griffith
Kelly – Soderberg – Eriksson
Paille – Campbell – Gagne

Chara – Hamilton
Seidenberg – Krug
Bartkowski – McQuaid

Rask

Read More: Matt Bartkowski, Seth Griffith,
Looking at Bruins’ candidates to replace Johnny Boychuk 10.06.14 at 12:18 pm ET
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Kevan Miller may be the eventual replacement for Johnny Boychuk. (Getty Images)

Kevan Miller may be the eventual replacement for Johnny Boychuk. (Getty Images)

The trade of Johnny Boychuk left a tough hole to fill on the right side of the Bruins’ second defensive pairing. Not only was Boychuk a dependable player alongside Zdeno Chara on the top pairing for years, but his work in anchoring the second pairing without Chara in the postseason is what allowed the B’s to team Chara and Dennis Seidenberg with success in the 2011 and 2013 postseasons.

Prior to Saturday’s trade, Boychuk had been skating with Seidenberg on the second pairing. That leaves Seidenberg, who is still shaking the rust off after not playing since last December, without a partner. Assuming that the B’s opt to keep Dougie Hamilton alongside Chara on their top pairing and Torey Krug remains on the third pairing, here are the internal candidates to replace Boychuk:

MATT BARTKOWSKI

Bartkowski is a terrific skater who makes the game exciting for both the right and wrong reasons. He was given a top-4 spot (and then had it taken away, and then had it given back, and then had it taken away, etc.) last season when Seidenberg went down, but that doesn’t mean he’s a shoo-in to return to the second pairing.

Playing Bartkowski on the second pairing would mean that Seidenberg, a left shot who plays the right side when teamed with Chara, would need to move to the right-side to accomodate the left-shooting Bartkowski. Seidenberg and Bartkowski were paired together at points prior to Seidenberg’s injury and again on Saturday night and have not looked good together. By my count, the two played were paired together for eight games last season, with Bartkowski posting an even rating in four of the games, a minus-1 in three of them and a plus-1 in one to combine for a minus-2.

It’s been a weird tenure for Bartkowski in Boston thus far. After being stolen from the Panthers in the hilarious trade that also sent Seidenberg to Boston for Byron Bitz, Craig Weller and a second-round pick, Bartkowski was the final cut on the Stanley Cup-winning 2010-11 team, spent three years in Providence, was(n’t) traded to the Flames for Jarome Iginla, started last season as the seventh defenseman and eventually was Seidenberg’s replacement.

He was sick to begin last postseason and was a scapegoat of sorts as the Bruins were upset by the Canadiens in the second round, though the Bruins taking him in and out of the lineup in that series in favor of Andrej Meszaros probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do for his confidence.

ADAM MCQUAID

McQuaid is a solid third-pairing blueliner who is both responsible in his own and end extremely mean wherever he is on the ice. Yet to assume he can be a top-4 defenseman for a full season and postseason would be irresponsible on the part of the Bruins.

Last season was the most frustrating season of what’€™s been a frustrating NHL career for McQuaid. Since taking Mark Stuart‘€™s job during the 2010-11 season, McQuaid has dealt with injury after injury, with last year being doomed by a quad injury that limited him to just 30 games. When it became clear that he wouldn’€™t be able to return at any point of the postseason, McQuaid got surgery on an ankle that had been bugging him as well.

So, like Seidenberg, McQuaid is trying to regain his form after a long time out of game action (his last regular season game was Jan. 19).

If the Bruins attempt to trade for a top-six forward, McQuaid could still be a candidate to be moved. His $1.56 million cap hit would allow the B’€™s, who figure to have $3.1 million in cap space going into the season, to add a player who makes decent money provided they also move other assets such as draft picks (they have their first-round pick and have four second-rounders in the next two drafts) or prospects. The Bruins’€™ depth on D ‘€” Zach Trotman is in the AHL because of it ‘€” would still make them able to overcome another blueliner, albeit one outside their top-4, being moved.

KEVAN MILLER

If all goes well, this is the guy who eventually replaces Boychuk. Miller is a right shot and the strongest player on the Bruins under 6-foot-9. His skill set is the closest to Boychuk’s of any of the players in this group, but he has a long way to go.

Though he got some minutes with Chara and an opportunity to defend a 6-on-5 against the Penguins, the Bruins generally sheltered Miller as a rookie. As a third-pairing player, the Bruins were careful with his matchups (his -.901 CorsiRel quality of competion was the second-lowest on the team; only his partner in Krug player easier minutes). Krug was also the only player with a higher offensive zone start percentage than Miller.

Claude Julien did not shelter Boychuk last season. The B’s put him out against whatever was leftover for opponents after Chara and Patrice Bergeron‘s line discarded the team’s first line. Boychuk had a .385 CorsiRel quality of competition; only Chara (1.5) and Hamilton (.386) played tougher minutes.

This isn’t to suggest that Miller can’t handle an uptick in competition now or won’t be able to later in the season. It just means that if the Bruins are going to give him the opportunity to replace Boychuk, they can’t hide him like they did last season.

————–

The Bruins mix and match with their pairings throughout the season, and the guess is that they’€™ll probably do that again as they audition Boychuk’€™s replacements. With three legitimate candidates, don’€™t assume that whoever’€™s teamed with Seidenberg Wednesday night will be there all season. The money here is on Miller to be the last man standing.

Read More: Adam McQuaid, Johnny Boychuk, Kevan Miller, Matt Bartkowski
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