Bruins Farm Report: College-Trained Defense Earns More Credit in Providence

Al DanielCorrespondent IIDecember 4, 2012

Three-year veteran Matt Bartkowski had one point and a minus-six rating before this past weekend. Since then, he has tallied two assists and a plus-four.
Three-year veteran Matt Bartkowski had one point and a minus-six rating before this past weekend. Since then, he has tallied two assists and a plus-four.Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Had either last Saturday or Sunday’s game been televised for a local audience, the Providence Bruins might as well have emulated the NFL and let its entire defense introduce itself―name, alma mater and all―on a superimposed graphic.

Matt Bartkowski, Ohio State (or The Ohio State University); Colby Cohen, Boston University; Tommy Cross, Boston College; Torey Krug, Michigan State; Zach Trotman, Lake Superior State; David Warsofsky, Boston University.

The veteran Garnet Exelby briefly returned from a groin ailment for Friday’s tilt with Connecticut, but presumably re-aggravated it as he was conspicuously absent from the lineup for the remainder of the weekend.

Cohen stepped up in his place, thus giving the Baby Bs a blue-line brigade comprised exclusively of U.S. college alumni.

That deep concoction of collegians played no small part in what will prove a landmark weekend if Providence can fully recompense its early-season woes and permanently restore relevance.

Five of those six defenders notched a point as part of Saturday’s 5-2 victory in Portland. The following afternoon, defensemen accounted for 22 out of 52 shots issued at Worcester Sharks goaltender Harri Sateri as part of a regulation tie/shootout loss.

In total, the Bruins' blue line tallied a 2-9-11 scoring log over the last three games. The team as a whole outscored the adversary, 11-6, giving up no more than two goals per night and collecting five of six possible points in the standings, nudging above .500 for the first time.

All of that amounted to the P-Bruins’ most productive and efficient weekend in recent memory. The only one that could rival it was Oct. 19-20, when they won each of two games by a cumulative 7-4 score and pulled their record to an even .500.

But as far as balanced, all-around performance from the back end goes, that does not compare to the November-December transition weekend.

The newfangled tandem of Bartkowski and Cross, who was summoned from South Carolina last Wednesday, stood out in their first three games as a pair with a matching output of two assists apiece and a plus-four rating.

Their exemplary play in both zones together―crisply clearing their own end and constantly thwarting opposing clearing attempts―was rather fitting. After all, Bartkowski has seen the most action with the parent club (albeit only nine regular-season games) while Cross has been in Boston’s system the longest.

Bartkowski and Cross were on the ice for each of the P-Bruins first two strikes on Friday, when they deleted initial 1-0 and 2-1 deficits against the Whale. The following night, they split the credit for setting up Jordan Caron’s icebreaker and Bartkowski, with a nearly identical point shot, assisted on Christian Hanson’s Sunday strike.

Regarding his first impression of Cross, who required only one weekend to match Exelby for a team-best plus-four rating, Providence skipper Bruce Cassidy told Joe Haggerty of, “He’s playing with a little confidence and swagger in his game. He showed that he can play in the league this weekend, and it’s a matter of consistency now.”

After the Bruins bit back and began to turn the tables in Friday’s affair, Trotman and Warsofsky factored into both the game-winner and the insurance. Only 69 seconds after Jamie Tardif had drawn a 2-2 knot (with the secondary assist going to Cross), Warsofsky imported a feed from his point partner and slugged it home for the first Providence lead.

In an early third-period power play, Warsofsky fed Trotman for a bid that parented a rebound for Tardif to bury, finalizing the 4-2 victory.

In a follow-up act, Warsfosky played an uncredited part and Trotman a starring role in Saturday’s clinching goal. Trotman nailed his second career goal and the first of his first full professional season from the high slot to bust yet another 2-2 tie (one also formed by Tardif with the primary assist to Krug) in Portland.

By night’s end, Cohen had set up Hanson for an empty netter and the defensive sextet had matched its combined Friday output of one goal (the game-winner both times) and four assists.

Of Trotman’s breakout weekend, complete with three points, a hand in two deciding strikes and a team-leading eight shots on Sunday, Cassidy told the Providence Journal, “He seems to find the spacing when it comes over from his partner.”

Finding the seams is something that all but occurred in a timely instant to the whole blue line, which entered the weekend with a cumulative three goals, 11 assists and 14 points through 16 games. Now, through 19 contests, they can claim to have charged up five strikes, 20 helpers and 25 points.