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Bartkowski Aims to Claim Playing Time, Build Consistency

by Caryn Switaj / Boston Bruins - Matt Bartkowski has an opportunity to claim playing time.

With Monday's announcement that Kevan Miller is out indefinitely with a dislocated right shoulder, Bartkowksi could be sliding into the lineup on Tuesday night as the Bruins host San Jose at TD Garden.

Miller sustained the injury during a fight in Saturday's game against Buffalo.

Through the Bruins' first seven games of the season, Bartkowski has been a healthy scratch for six of them, watching the action from up in the press box. Looking at his game log, one might naturally label him the Bruins' seventh defenseman.

That's not the way Bartkowski has approached it, though.

"You just have to prepare every day," the defenseman said following Monday's practice at Ristuccia Arena. "Prepare as if you're going to play and that's pretty much all you can do in the situation I'm in right now."

"My mindset isn't that I'm in the seventh defensemen role, if that's what you're asking. If I am the seventh on any given night, then I just work hard in the morning after skate and ride the bike, and that's all I can do."

Injuries happen. The Bruins knew at some point during the season, they would be faced with this situation.

"Yeah, you never want to see it under this circumstance. Millsy's a good friend of mine. I never want to see any of these D get hurt," said Bartkowski, when asked by a reporter about getting into the lineup. "But like you said, it's good to get back in and play some games."

The Bruins entered training camp with well-known depth on the back end. After the club acquired draft picks from the New York Islanders in exchange for Johnny Boychuk, they still maintained fairly strong depth with players in Providence like David Warsofsky, Zach Trotman, free agent signing Chris Breen, Chris Casto and Joe Morrow, among others.

"You know, we have some depth. We talk about that all the time," Head Coach Claude Julien said on Monday. "If there's an area I thought we had lots of it - we talked about it during camp, had to make our decisions who was on the back end - so here's an opportunity to take advantage of that depth we talk about."

With Boston full-time since the 2013-14 season, Bartkowski could get the initial opportunity to maintain a spot in the lineup.

This won't be his first time getting a chance to play more often.

Last season, Bartkowski slotted into the lineup when Dennis Seidenberg was lost for the season, and suited up in 64 games with 18 assists and a plus-22 rating. It was a major jump from the 20 combined NHL games he saw because of recalls from Providence through the previous three seasons.

Entering 2014-15 after signing a one-year deal as a restricted free agent, Bartkowski was focused on being a more consistent player. He hasn't had a chance yet to put that into action yet.

"Going forward, the main thing would be consistency," Bartkowski said prior to training camp, upon signing his new contract. "Along the way, I'd have a stretch of games and then maybe a mix-up here or there, which I think happens to every younger player in his career. If I can work on the consistency, if you can show that you can play every night, then anybody should have a long career doing that."

"So I think being able to prove that I can do it, and make some more strides, and just be 100 percent consistent is the ultimate goal."

"I just need to keep focusing on the things I need to do better, and get better at them. It's that simple."

Bartkowski's only game so far in 2014-15 came on October 13 against the Colorado Avalanche at TD Garden.

With that game nearly headed to overtime, his lasting memory is of Daniel Briere scoring the winning goal to put the Avs on top, 2-1, with 0.4 left in regulation after havoc in front of the net. Both he and Seidenberg were on the ice for that game-winner, as well as Colorado's first goal.

Bartkowski didn't sugarcoat anything after the loss - he wasn't happy about losing his coverage on the game-winning goal.

He's itching to get back in.

"Yeah, absolutely. I mean, all-around, it wasn't a good game," he said. "But I'd like to get some games in a row here and get going."

The defenseman expects improvement out of himself, especially with minimizing the frequency of mistakes.

If he can earn his spot, he'll benefit from playing night after night.

"Yeah, it's always better - easier to get in the flow. Playing a few games in a row, it's easier to be more consistent," he said. "Just getting back playing, it's always easier to play more."

Like fellow defensemen Dougie Hamilton and Torey Krug, Bartkowski is an asset when he uses his strong skating to push the pace.

"He's just got to play his game," said Julien. "His game is about skating and moving the puck, and where he just needs to continue to work hard on is being a little harder to play against."

"He's a defenseman - he's got to defend and has to be a little harder sometimes in areas where he has to defend, so those are areas we talk about with him and continue to work with him on."

The Bruins face San Jose on Tuesday night, coming off of their 2-1-0 road trip through Detroit, Montreal and Buffalo that saw them put up nine goals. They allowed six to the Habs with breakdowns costing them, but bounced back with a 4-0 shutout of the Sabres.

If they want to keep turning the corner, they need to continue improving their strong play, at both ends of the ice.

Even though Bartkowski didn't suit up on the road, he's well aware of what he and the team need to build on.

"It's good to see we're going in the right direction," he said. "And we still need to focus on our defensive game - that's our bread and butter - and if that's there, with this new scoring, we should be fine."

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