One week after welcoming back Andrew Bodnarchuk, the franchise’s active all-time games-played leader among defensemen, the Providence Bruins are salivating for a symbiotic relationship with the return of Matt Bartkowski. The 23-year-old sophomore was sent down from Boston on Thursday morning and will doubtlessly have a spot in the lineup for Friday’s home bout with the Worcester Sharks and beyond.
During his season-opening NHL call-up, necessitated by Steven Kampfer’s injury sustained in an Oct. 1 exhibition, Bartkowski stood in for Adam McQuaid on three nonconsecutive occasions. With each appearance, his ice time steadily wilted.
All the while, the Baby Bs struggled to initiate an altogether unripe blue line brigade. With Bodnarchuk still nursing his own injury over opening weekend, Providence had only two non-rookies in Colby Cohen (only in his second full professional season) and Marvin Degon.
Back in The Show, Bartkowski played a cumulative 8:22 over 12 shifts on opening night versus Philadelphia, a mere 5:32 on 11 shifts at Chicago last Saturday and 4:29 on seven shifts on Tuesday against Carolina.
In addition, he lost a point on his plus/minus gauge against the Blackhawks and the Hurricanes.
Out of nine NHL regular-season ventures between this season and last, Tuesday was the smallest sweat Bartkowski has worked up in Boston attire. Granted, some of that owed to the Bruins’ frequent and protracted penalty kills, but it was still plain that the second-year pro needed more grooming on the farm.
There were fairly plain signs of that when he was last seen in Providence, anyway.
A little more than six months ago, Bartkowski partnered with Bodnarchuk in his last appearance with the P-Bruins, a 3-2 win at Springfield in the penultimate game of the 2010-11 season. He landed three shots on goal and was on the ice for all five strikes at either end, amounting to a plus-1 rating.
Ultimately, Bartkowski led all Providence blueliners with 158 SOG and a 5-18-23 scoring log, a indubitable factor in his garnering the team’s best defenseman award. He was ultimately credited with at least one registered stab in 60 out of 69 games-played. A return to that habit would be embraced by a P-Bruins squad that is currently taking a meek median of 23.8 shots per game.
And out of the team’s 48 power-play goals last season, Bartkowski had a hand in seven.
Although, there was also that egregious, team-worst minus-18 rating over the course of 69 AHL appearances. And there was the fact that he finished the year with a 10-game pointless drought, easily his longest cold spell.
The latter may have been due, in part, to his coming off of two years at Ohio State and a random inability to keep a full tank for his first professional season. After scoring his last meaningful point by setting up Jordan Caron’s power-play strike against Connecticut on March 19, Bartkowski’s rating dipped by six points in as many games, though he subsequently made four of those up in April.
But likely sooner rather than later, he should prove to have felt the worst stings of a few fiery baptisms in the AHL and NHL. In turn, Bartkowski’s return to Providence should alleviate the pressure on the P-Bruins’ four rookie defenders, particularly Zach McKelvie and Marc Cantin.
The only two active Providence blueliners who did not so much as take part in an amateur tryout late last year, McKelvie and Cantin’s struggles have shown through three games as the team’s third unit. Out of six even-strength goals authorized by the P-Bruins last weekend, McKelvie was on the ice for four, Cantin for three.
With Bartkowski added to the equation, at least one of his comparatively unripe colleagues could be sent down to ECHL Reading and thus receive his own version of what Bartkowski needs: More authentic, extramural action at an appropriate level.
Meanwhile, Bartkowski can collaborate with Bodnarchuk and Cohen to enhance the “veteran presence” on Bruce Cassidy’s blue line. And if he’s ready to revive the acetylene, playmaking twig he flaunted between last November and March, he can help the likes of Josh Hennessy in stoking the P-Bruins’ power play.