Bartkowski has plenty to prove to the Bruins

561492.jpg

Bartkowski has plenty to prove to the Bruins

NORTH SMITHFIELD, R.I. Matt Bartkowski knows that he hasnt been able to put his best foot forward at the NHL level.

The Bruins defensemen prospect has made it through the entirety of training camp with Boston in each of the last two years, and actually started the year with the Bs last season when Adam McQuaid fell ill before the season began. Hes played in nine scoreless games with Boston over the last two seasons with a minus-4 rating and four penalty minutes, and has suffered breakdowns in his own zone against bigger, stronger, faster NHL attackers.

The key for him is to improve his skating speed, pay attention to detail in his own end, and factor in the rapid decision-making necessary at the NHL level.

"I just need to prepare myself for what they want me to do and how they want me to play," Bartkowski said. "My goal is to win a spot in Boston when the lockout is over. My stints in Boston have all been short and I havent played as well as I think I can play. I know that.

"I want to show the coaches and certain people that I can play well defensively, and once I do that I think everything else will take care of itself. If I can play hard in the D zone, not get beat, and be hard to play against then Im playing my game."

The 24-year-old also suffered a concussion last season while still managing to put up 22 points in 50 games for Providence, and improving his plusminus rating from minus-7 in his rookie season to even last year. Thats exactly the kind of on-ice performance that Bartkowski is looking to show the watchful eyes of the Bs front office and coaching staff while theyre watching P-Bruins camp.

The Bs staff instructed Bartkowski to watch tapes of defenseman Dennis Seidenberg over the summer and attempt to absorb things from his game particularly in the defensive end while working himself into a capable sixthseventh defenseman. Thats the plan to start, anyway.

The Bs staff told me to watch certain D in Boston and watch how they play not necessarily to emulate them but to learn from them, said Bartkowski. It was Seidenberg mainly. Id love to be as good as him someday, and they think I could develop into that kind of player. As long as I keep progressing and watch him play with his determination, hes solid on every play.

Theres also the issue of greater competition. Bartkowski has been one of the more highly regarded defensemen prospects over each of the last two seasons, but now hes watching as other young defensemen like Dougie Hamilton and Torey Krug are rising through the Black and Gold organization.

Bartkowski also knows hes in the last year of his entry-level deal with the Bruins. So its time to show improvement in his game and that hes ready to take the next step after proving hes a capable AHL defenseman.

Its absolutely competition. Hamilton and Krug are really good players and really good defensemen. We have different skill sets and play a different kind of game, so its not the same in that sense, Bartkowski said. But as a sixseven all the way up to whatever its definitely competition. It makes me want to elevate my game and play better.

Bartkowski expects to be invited to the shortened NHL training camp once the lockout is finally over, and that will give him a chance to show he wont become the forgotten man along the Bs blue line anytime soon.

Haggerty: Bruins get chance to show good results weren't just short term

Haggerty: Bruins get chance to show good results weren't just short term

The mission for the Bruins on their four-game road swing through the West Coast is certainly to keep the momentum going, but it’s also to quell any talk that the positive results will be short-lived following the coaching change.

The Bruins won there first three games interim head coach Bruce Cassidy headed into the five-day “bye week”, and they’ll come out on the other side with a potentially dangerous road swing through California that will finish up in Dallas next weekend. 

The Black and Gold have gone into death spirals before on the Cali trip, so that’s always a danger when going coast-to-coast to face tough teams in the Sharks, Ducks and Kings.

There’s also the fact that NHL teams are 3-10-2 as of Saturday afternoon in the first game coming back from the five-day midseason vacation. That means the B’s are going to face a stiff uphill battle on Sunday night against the Pacific Division-leading Sharks. 

The challenge is going to be there for the Bruins to answer all of those challenges when they’ve shrunk away from such adversity most of the season. It gives the Bruins yet another chance to show that the three games aren’t merely a sugar-high after cages had been rattled and is instead something that Boston sustains over the season’s final two-plus months.

“Our thinking is to try to win every game. We know the standings. We know it’s pretty tight. We put ourselves in some of the games in tough situations. Now, we’ve got to climb up and fight for every point,” said Zdeno Chara. “It’s going to be very important that we do that and play that way until the end.

“We can look at the standings as much as we want. I think that we really have to focus on how we play, how we want to go into every game, and what we can do to get as many points as possible.”

The good news for the Bruins is that the teams chasing them in the standings really haven’t gained ground on them, and they enter Saturday still in a playoff spot. So, the mathematics don’t look as dire for Boston as they did going into their rest period, and now they should be energized, recharged and highly motivated headed into the final 24 games of the season.

There’s also the fact that the Bruins were playing exciting, aggressive and winning hockey due to some of the tweaks made by Cassidy after taking control of the team. He finally got some production from the third line after putting forwards Frank Vatrano, Ryan Spooner and Jimmy Hayes together, a combo he never truly gave a look because he didn’t trust them to do the job defensively. Cassidy immediately placed 21-year-old Peter Cehlarik into a top-six role with power-play time straight from the AHL. That’s something one almost never saw happen with rookies and inexperienced guys during Julien’s run.

The B’s defensemen corps scored four goals in the three wins and showed aggressive, timely risk-taking to produce offense when playing it safe was normally the call of the day under Julien. The forwards were avoiding the low-to-high passing to the point that so often resulted in perimeter shots from the Bruins in the offensive zone, and instead attacked the net down low with the forwards looking to put some anxiety into the opponent’s D-zone coverage.

It all worked and it all looked remarkably different from the way the Bruins played in the opening 55 games.

“It’s something we need to bottle up and not change our approach, not change what we’re doing, make sure we’re moving [during the bye] and not just sitting idle and getting rusty,” said David Backes last weekend headed into the bye. “Make sure that mentally, we can have those same sort of mindsets for every guy to be contributing. It’s something that doesn’t show up on the score sheet, but guys are recognized in here for doing those things and that’s winning culture. That’s what we’re building.”

The Bruins now get their chance to prove this is a permanent change to a winning culture rather than a short term, three-game adrenaline rush after watching their longtime coach get fired. It won’t be easy, but it shouldn’t be for the Black and Gold if they’re finally going to earn their way into the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in three seasons. 

Saturday, Feb. 18: NHL more likely in Seattle than NBA?

Saturday, Feb. 18: NHL more likely in Seattle than NBA?

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while hoping that Purple Passion doesn’t try the same comeback as Zima.

*A Seattle investor says that an NHL team coming to that city is much more likely than a return by the NBA to the Pacific Northwestern city.

*Gare Joyce writes eloquently about the loneliness of a hockey scout, and how that world can sometimes come to a crashing halt.  

*Good piece from Arpon Basu giving the sights and sounds of Claude Julien’s second stint behind the bench with the Montreal Canadiens.

*The agent for Russian player Maxim Shalunov says there is a “10 percent chance” that he’s going to sign with the Chicago Blackhawks.

*Mike Babcock says not to expect any big trade deadline deals from the Toronto Maple Leafs as they push for a playoff spot.

*Henrik Zetterberg reflects on a difficult season with the Detroit Red Wings where it looks like things might finally come down to a crashing halt.

http://www.detroitnews.com/story/sports/nhl/red-wings/2017/02/17/red-wings-zetterberg-reflects-tough-season/98064530/

*The Minnesota Wild have underrated depth on their team, and the Hockey News says it might just be their scariest attribute.

*For something completely different: as referenced above, it looks like that Zima drink of the 1990s is trying to make a comeback. I was in college when the Zima people were seemingly flooding campuses with advertising and samples back in the day.