An infectious wave of fatigue or complacency spoiled the third installment of what might have been a seamless, revolutionary weekend for the Providence Bruins. Third-year defenseman Matt Bartkowski was one of the topmost personifications of the team’s progress that was halted amidst Sunday afternoon’s 6-2 submission to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.
That is not the first time Bartkowski has endured an unpleasant blow this season. Less than two weeks ago, he was nailed in the face by an errant puck and has since thrown back to his college days at Ohio State with a protective cage.
That setback has not slowed him down in recent outings. Neither should the vinegar of the last game if the Bruins want to regain a winning habit, for he is steadily becoming more dependable and depended upon as everyone delves deeper into the 2012-13 campaign.
In the back-to-back wins preceding Sunday’s action, Bartkowski had stopped his bleeding on the stats sheet by posting an even rating on both nights. He had lost a plus/minus point in each of three outings the previous weekend while his club only mustered three of a possible six points in the standings.
Sunday’s slide saw Bartkowski brook a minus-two rating, as did three of his teammates in Ryan Button, Carter Camper and Kyle MacKinnon. It also saw the P-Bruins whiff on an opportunity to sweep a three-game weekend and exit the basement of the Atlantic Division whilst pulling within one point of the first-place Worcester Sharks.
On the other hand, while virtually everyone shared the statistical consequences of a dreadful defensive effort, Bartkowski was one of the more productive P-Bruins on Bridgeport property. More than half (16) of the 30 shots to reach Sound Tigers goalie Anders Nilsson came from four individuals, including three off of Bartkowski’s stick.
Bartkowski did not have a hand in either of the Providence goals, but his output in the shot column was reminiscent of his perk-up the previous Sunday and his productive outing on Friday.
He registered four shots in each of those games, including a near-miss bid for insurance in a 3-2 victory over Manchester. The icebreaker that evening spawned Bartkowski’s first point of the season in the form of an assist.
No written reports have come out as to 31-year-old, 12-year professional Exelby’s status. But for however long the eldest rostered defenseman may be out, Bartkowski is officially the most seasoned member of the Providence blue-line brigade with two full years and 140 games of AHL/NHL experience.
On the team’s first night of the season sans Exelby, he stepped up as needed despite retracting his offensive output.
The Bruins never trailed in a tight, 2-1 triumph over the host Portland Pirates on Saturday. They killed all six penalties in the process with Bartkowski logging substantive shorthanded ice time, although his high-sticking infraction at 3:20 of the second period did force them to play two men down for 77 seconds.
Portland captain and scoring leader Alexandre Bolduc mustered five shots on goal, but was kept off the board all night.On at least two occasions, Bartkowski was spotted cleanly belting Bolduc to thwart any additional threat.
In one case, the contact led to a clear on the penalty kill, one of many moments where Bartkowski himself spooned or slapped the puck off of Providence property.
A far cry from when he was a healthy scratch in consecutive games last month.
An almost equally far cry from as recently as last Sunday, when Bartkowski’s turnover directly set up the Worcester Sharks’ icebreaker in an eventual 4-3 shootout loss. That was the second of two setbacks against Worcester that has heavily influenced the shape of the standings up to this point.
Other than those two games and this past Sunday against the potent Sound Tigers’ power play, the Bruins have considerably improved on defense and the penalty kill. They have found a reliable backbone in goaltender Niklas Svedberg, who like Bartkowski saw a positive trend plummet on Sunday and may, in retrospect, have unwisely been given the nod after laboring each of the previous two nights.
Exelby or not, Bartkowski should be banked on more support of either Svedberg or Michael Hutchinson in all forms. Already in his young career, he is a perennial playmaker in the upper teens and was the recipient of the club’s 2010-11 top blueliner award and a handful of call-ups to Boston.
He might have been in the running for more of both last year if not for a season-ending injury in February. The remnants of that ailment and his subsequent recovery may have contributed to his slow start in October, but Bartkowski now ought to be on a much more stable pace and should be bent on thawing out his twig and recompensing his minus-seven rating.
His effective physicality and puck control on Saturday and the fact that he has tallied 11 shots on goal in his last four appearances after nailing only eight in the first eight are sound testaments.
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