Matt Bartkowski was expected to take a step forward this season and become a reliable defenseman for the Boston Bruins.
Instead, he has been a liability in the defensive zone, and many of his mistakes have led to goals for Bruins opponents.
“He’s struggling right now. I think everybody knows that,” Bruins head coach Claude Julien said after Wednesday’s practice. “Somehow he’s got to find his game and he’s got to find his confidence. Those are things that players have to go through sometimes. We can’t play for them. So it’s important for them to find their game.”
The low point for Bartkowski this season was Tuesday night’s 4-3 loss to the Minnesota Wild. The 26-year-old blueliner was on the ice for three goals against and was benched for the last 13 minutes of the third period.
Thomas Vanek stole the puck from Bartkowski behind the net in the first period and, a few seconds later, fed it to Nino Niederreiter for the Wild’s opening goal. It was all downhill from there as Bartkowski finished with 8:56 of total ice time — his lowest in a single game since the 2011-12 season.
Bartkowski has been on the ice for six goals against in five games, and he isn’t consistently winning puck battles along the boards and in front of the net. His three blocked shots are seven less than all of the B’s defensemen who’ve played in at least five games.
Bartkowski also is failing to make an impact offensively. He has totaled five shots in five games with zero points and a team-worst (among D-men) 50.79 Corsi-for percentage at even strength despite starting 70.2 percent of those shifts in the attacking zone.
Injuries to Zdeno Chara, Kevan Miller and Torey Krug, as well as the preseason trade of Johnny Boychuk, have presented Bartkowski several opportunities to prove he belongs on the Bruins’ blue line long term. Judging by his performance so far and the Wednesday call-ups of Joe Morrow and David Warsofsky, Bartkowski’s time probably is running out..
“It’s painful,” Bartkowski said. “I mean, you want to be part of the effort, you want to play a role. At this time, with the guys we have available, I should be playing a bigger role. My game isn’t warranting it, so (Julien) shortens the bench, and that’s about it. Sitting from the sidelines and watching, it’s painful.”
Julien was forced to double shift Dennis Seidenberg in place of Bartkowski a few times against the Wild. That’s far from ideal because Seidenberg already has to play well over 20 minutes against the opponent’s top lines as part of the first pairing with Dougie Hamilton. The Bruins need to dress six defensemen who can play at least 10 minutes per game regardless of the opponent because injuries have depleted the blue line depth.
Right now, it’s difficult to trust Bartkowski for 10 to 15 minutes. When asked Wednesday if he was comfortable with Bartkowski in his lineup, Julien replied, “We’ll see.”
We might receive our answer Thursday night when the Bruins play the Buffalo Sabres on the road.
Photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images
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