BOSTON — Bruins coach Claude Julien said Monday morning that his team’s offensive struggles had to do with more than just the scoring drought of Milan Lucic. But of course, there was really no denying the power forward’s ongoing issues.
Lucic entered Monday night’s game with the Maple Leafs mired in a big-time slump. He hadn’t scored since Feb. 24, and had been held pointless in seven of his last eight games. Those struggles led to a demotion of sorts, as Lucic found himself on the Boston third line to begin Monday’s game.
He apparently got the message, though, as Lucic bounced back with a much better showing, scoring his first goal in 15 games in the Bruins’ 3-2 shootout win at TD Garden.
There’s no doubt that the frustration was starting to build. Lucic was a shell of himself on Saturday night in Toronto and the disappearing act had appeared to reach a new low. That frustration carried over for at least a period Monday when the big forward failed to score on a power play and then slammed his stick on the bench in frustration as the period came to a close.
“It was starting to get really frustrating going as long as I did without a goal,” Lucic said after Monday’s game. “You try so many different things and pushing and pushing and when things stop working, you start second-guessing yourself.”
It shouldn’t come as much surprise to anyone who’s ever watched Lucic play that when he finally did break out of his slump, he did so by moving his feet. Lucic took a pass from new (temporarily, at least) linemate Rich Peverley and skated hard into the Toronto zone. He got by the defensemen and eventually beat James Reimer five-hole.
It was a prototypical Lucic goal. It featured plenty of hustle and heavy speed, and just enough skill and touch around the net to finish. It was enough to make you wonder why it sometimes disappears for so long at a time.
“My game is pretty simple,” Lucic said. “No matter who I’m playing with, I’m expected to play a certain way. I play the same way no matter who I play with. ”
That’s what makes Lucic’s occasional struggles, especially this season, so puzzling. He’s got the physical talents to be able to keep his feet moving and keep plays alive, to the point that it defies logic that he could go so long without lighting the lamp.
The frustration obviously mounts, and that also contributes to the issues. The goals aren’t coming, and all of a sudden the focus for Lucic becomes scoring goals, not necessarily moving the feet to create opportunities. The focus becomes not on the process, but the product, which has a long track record of failure, not to mention broken sticks.
That lack of production, of course, also leads to criticism, and eventually you have a pretty vicious cycle.
“You try not to listen to it, that’s the main thing,” Lucic said of the criticisms that have been lobbed his way, especially in regards to playing more consistently. “Like I said, you just wanna do whatever I can to get yourself out of it. Hopefully this is a step in the right direction where hopefully I can get my game going.”
Now the Bruins have to hope that Lucic can use the momentum gained from Monday’s goal, and apply that to games moving forward. Julien spoke about his team playing “heavy” right now, pointing to a taxing schedule as a potential reason. Getting Lucic going may be one darn-good remedy for that issue.
“Once he saw he scored a goal, all of a sudden he was doing it every other shift and it was really working,” Bruins captain Zdeno Chara said. “Sometimes little things like that will spark the whole body and all of the sudden he just gets going, and that’s great.”
The Bruins would love nothing more than for Lucic to carry that over into Wednesday when the Canadiens, the team that Lucic has had success against in his career. Hopefully for the Bruins’ sakes, Lucic does use Monday as a reminder of how “simple” finding success really can be
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