WILMINGTON — Matt Bartkowski has spent his game nights sitting in the press box, biding his time, waiting to get a chance to play. With an injury to Adam McQuaid, that time might come on Monday.
McQuaid was skating after a puck Saturday night, 7:52 into the game against the Maple Leafs, when he clutched toward his right hip area as he fell to the ice. He had to be helped off the ice by Daniel Paille and Shawn Thornton and did not return to the game.
The prognosis was not much better Sunday, as coach Claude Julien termed him “doubtful” for the Monday afternoon game against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“He’s still getting better, but still hurting today,” Julien said. “If McQuaid isn’t ready, which he’s probably doubtful, Bartkowski will go in there.”
Bartkowski has played sparingly this season, often sitting out as the seventh defenseman. He has played three times in place of others — replacing Dougie Hamilton twice, McQuaid once — and once because of an injury to Johnny Boychuk. He is minus-3 in his limited time.
“I’m ready,” Bartkowski said. “I’ve just been skating and riding the bike and practicing, so I’m ready to play now. It takes like a shift or two maybe to get back into it, but I like to challenge myself to be at the level of where I was.”
That won’t be easy, which the player and the coach understand. He has played once since Oct. 17, that coming on Nov. 2 against the Islanders in the Bruins’ worst game of the season.
“No matter how you look at it, it’s always tough for a guy who hasn’t played much to come into the lineup,” Julien said. “We’ve said that about [Chad] Johnson, too. Tuukka [Rask’s] playing a lot of games. For Chad to get on a roll is hard, and we realize that.
“Same thing with Bart. You realize that you’ve seen him at his best and you see how good he can be, maybe he doesn’t give you that right off the bat, but hopefully with some games under his belt, he’ll get more comfortable and more confident.”
Julien changed the defensive pairings from the only other time this season that he used the six defensemen left, against Florida on Oct. 17. In practice, he had Zdeno Chara with Hamilton, Torey Krug with Dennis Seidenberg, and Bartkowski with Boychuk.
Bartkowski didn’t seem worried about the layoff. He said that in other games, he hasn’t had trouble getting back into the flow of his position.
“The last game I played, it just took a little bit to get back into it,” he said. “I played a shift or two and then I started skating. As long as my feet are moving and I’m playing physical, I’m usually pretty effective, so that’s all I’ve got to tell myself.”
Part of the reason that Bartkowski has spent so much time as a healthy scratch has been the play of Krug and Hamilton, the team’s other young defensemen. Krug has six goals this season, tied for the league lead among defensemen. Hamilton has three goals, and has shown steadily improving defense.
“His mobility is extremely good, it’s quick,” Julien said of Krug. “He can fake a guy out. That’s one of his strengths, so his challenge becomes when he has to battle in the corners against guys that are twice his size. You’ve got other guys that may not be able to dangle like he does, but they don’t lose too many battles.
“We’ve got a good balance there, and that’s why we say we’re happy to have him. He brought that element to our team that we’ve kind of looked for, and he’s done a good job at it.”
It’s certainly something that has helped the team, especially with Krug’s and Hamilton’s ability to create on the power play. Their growing confidence and ability to join the rush have created offensive chances and, for the most part, they’ve limited their mistakes in the defensive zone. Hamilton had a particularly good game against Toronto Saturday, even while pressed into additional duty due to McQuaid’s injury.
But it has meant fewer games and fewer minutes for Bartkowski, a good defenseman who came off an impressive preseason that, even so, landed him in the press box.
“He’s ready to play here,” Julien said. “We all know that under other circumstances he’d probably be in the top four, maybe even on some other teams, when he’s on top of his game, so he’s a good defenseman.
“It’s just right now we’ve got numbers. We’ve got veterans that are extremely good, that we’ve relied on in the past. We’ve got some good young players here that are — how do you take Krug out of the lineup when he’s probably one of your most important guys on the power play? Hamilton is the same way. He’s on the power play, but he’s also played extremely well, so it’s not easy to balance those things out.
“So you make decisions as you go along, you know with time, it’ll even itself out. But he’s a good player, he deserves and belongs in this league. It’s as simple as that.”Amalie Benjamin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.