BOSTON -- Matt Bartkowski is also more than willing to accept accountability for his actions on the ice, and knew he deserved a healthy scratch last week. In his own words, Bartkowski said he wasn’t properly focused to play in the game against the Minnesota Wild last week and it showed on the ice.
“I didn’t play well, and it was just some mental mistakes,” admitted Bartkowski. “I had a pretty bad game. Sitting out, you just realize that every game you have to be mentally prepared, or mentally strong . . . whatever you want to call it. When I got back in the lineup, I just focused on that.”
The Bruins won the game, but Bartkowski made a couple of key mistakes that led to Wild scoring chances. The coup de grace was Bartkowski’s move to pinch toward the net on an offensive zone face off, and thereby allow Jason Pominville to blow the zone for a breakaway goal in the final minutes of the second period.
Claude Julien was incensed on the bench right after the play, and Bartkowski was benched the following night against the New Jersey Devils. He knew it was likely coming, but is also well aware that it was an outlier in an otherwise solid few months for the left shot defenseman.
“Before [the Wild game] I had been pretty consistent for I don’t know how many games,” said Bartkowski. “I just had one game where, for one reason or another, I just wasn’t freakin’ ready to play. It wasn’t fatigue for me. I wasn’t tired mentally or physically.”
One thing Bartkowski did appreciate: getting put right back into the lineup for the road games vs. the Avalanche and Coyotes. He averaged a shade under 20 minutes in each games, finished with a plus-1 rating and looked like the promising young D-man that’s been a plus-21 since the day Dennis Seidenberg went down on Dec. 27.
“I did. I don’t like sitting out. Even if you’re playing well and they want to sit you out to rest you, I don’t ever like sitting out,” said Bartkowski. “I appreciated [getting back in there]. I just need to play well, and that’s it.
“What do we have 11 games left? That’s pretty close [to the playoffs]. Now is the time to start clicking. If it wasn’t the time before, it’s definitely the time now. Everybody wants to be playing their best hockey, but that means ironing everything out beforehand. That’s what we’re doing now.”
The B’s bench boss was very clear that Bartkowski sitting vs. New Jersey was a message that no positions are guaranteed come playoff-time, but Julien also gave all of the young defenseman a big vote of confidence with the playoffs just a few weeks away.
“I think that [the young defenseman] have progressed really well. We talked the other day about Kevan Miller coming in halfway through the season, he’s playing like he’s a vet right now. I don’t see him making too many mistakes and I don’t see him losing too many battles,” said Julien. “But our young guys – [Matt] Bartkowski has been extremely good for us and [Torey] Krug, as you know watching him, he’s made our power play so much better this year -- have been really good.
“People may argue about the lack of experience but those guys proved last year that they could do the job when we played against the Rangers. I’m feeling pretty confident right now with our group. I have no concerns. At the end of the day, you have what you have and you move forward with those guys. But they’ve allowed us to have confidence in them, by their play. Even at this stage when there’s a lot at stake for a lot of teams that we’re playing against, they’re still pretty composed. I like the direction of our Ds.”
It will be a tough decision come playoff-time. It seems that Miller is definitely in given his physical, punishing style, and Krug should be an automatic given the life he brings to the power play. That leaves Bartkowski, who has been steady throughout the last few months aside from a hiccup or two, and Hamilton, who has come on strong since being scratched for a pair of games earlier this month, as the two most viable candidates should Andrej Meszaros be included among the best six D-men.
It still remains to be seen which of the young defensemen might possibly be outside the top six when the playoffs begin, but it will all depend on how they keep playing down the stretch with 11 games remaining in the regular season.