BUFFALO — When asked on Wednesday whether he was comfortable with Matt Bartkowski in his lineup, coach Claude Julien would only say, “We’ll see.”
By game time Thursday night against the Sabres, we had our answer.
Bartkowski was a healthy scratch, putting the recently recalled Joe Morrow (NHL debut) and David Warsofsky into the lineup at the First Niagara Center. Bartkowski, who had been struggling significantly, watched Boston’s 3-2 overtime win from the press box.
Before the game, Julien had acknowledged that Bartkowski is in the middle of a crisis of confidence that has left him, as compared with his performance last season, “maybe half that player.”
“You try and address that the best you can,” Julien said. “At one point, you address the areas where you see him maybe struggling, but at the same time you try and build up his confidence by saying you’ve just got to go out there and play.
“We all know that he’s been a player that was very serviceable last year when a guy like [Dennis] Seidenberg went down. He played in our top four. I thought he did a good job. Right now he’s maybe half that player, and I think a lot of that has to do with confidence.
“He makes one little mistake, I think he gets down on himself. There’s certain things as a coach you can try and do, but I guess the biggest part has to come from him. He’s got to be mentally strong enough to overcome those things and start thinking in a positive way. We always talk about release and reload, release the mistake and the bad shift and reload with some positive thinking, go out there and have a good shift the next one. Those are things that players have to do for themselves. You try and help them along, but you can lead a horse to water but you can’t force him to drink. He’s the one that’s got to, I guess, at this point, that’s got to find that confidence that he needs.”
Bartkowski admitted on Wednesday that his confidence is shot. He was involved in two plays that led directly to goals in Tuesday’s 4-3 loss to Minnesota, with Nino Niederreiter and Justin Fontaine capitalizing on his errors. And it wasn’t the first time it had happened this season.
“The hardest way to play is the way I’m playing right now, which is playing not to make mistakes,” Bartkowski had said. “Once I put a shift out there where I just go out and play, play with confidence, it’s just going — bam, right back in it.”
With the news that Torey Krug (broken finger) is out for 2-3 weeks, the Bruins brought up Warsofsky and Morrow. It was assumed Warsofsky would replace Krug — they play similar games — but it wasn’t assured Morrow would play for Bartkowski until game time.
After the game, Julien again talked about Bartkowski’s confidence in making his decision, and indicated the benching might not be for just one game. The Providence defensemen generally played well against the Sabres, not an offensively gifted team.
“Part of it is sometimes, it’s good for a player to watch from the top,” Julien said. “Because [Bartkowski’s] confidence is extremely low right now, and I think everybody who watches him play can see that. When you saw him play last year with our injuries he was so much better.
“Right now his confidence is so low, and I guess at this level, how long can you wait? Sometimes you try something else and maybe just take a little bit of pressure off him, letting him watch a game — maybe two, who knows? — is what he’s going to need. I can tell you this much, if we’re going to get through this rash of injuries on the back end, we’re going to need him. So hopefully he’ll get going here soon.”
Kevan Miller, out indefinitely with a dislocated right shoulder suffered Oct. 18 in a fight in the season’s first meeting with Buffalo, is expected to start skating on Monday.
“He’s improving,” Julien said. “I can’t tell you when he’s going to be back because I don’t know. But he’s improving. I think right now if we gauge ourselves by what we were told, I think he’s on track.”
The Bruins could use the defensively responsible Miller back in the lineup, as they have been decimated by injuries on the blue line.
In addition to Krug, Zdeno Chara is out for 4-6 weeks with a knee injury.
The Bruins have been relying heavily on a couple of defensemen in terms of minutes, and that’s not likely to change. Dougie Hamilton played 28:32 against the Wild, Krug played 24:07, and Seidenberg played 24:00. Although Hamilton might not play that much every game, it doesn’t seem as if his minutes are going to dramatically decrease under the current circumstances, though the Bruins managed to keep him to 24:06 on Thursday with more contributions from Warsofsky (18:09), Morrow (17:51), and Zach Trotman (15:13). “Everybody is different,” Julien said. “Some players can handle more minutes. Some guys have a hard time with it. They play a certain amount of minutes and then you see their game starting to fade a little bit. It depends on the individual. I think Dougie’s a guy that’s been able — he’s done it pretty well his whole career from junior on up. When he got to us, his minutes obviously went down compared to what he’s been used to. But he seems to be handling it well. He’s a guy that we really feel strongly about for now and our future, so why not?”