Lucic shaping up for start of season

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Lucic shaping up for start of season

BOSTON -- Milan Lucic is quick to admit he isnt in the same kind of game shape as teammates who played in Europe for the last four months.

We can practice as much as we want and we can play shinny as much as we want, but there are aspects of the game that arent there: the stopping and starting, the little details and the battling in the corner, Lucic said Monday. For guys like me, hopefully it wont take that much time and we can shake the rust off right away.

For our team, a lot of guys were active in Europe and were playing, but its definitely going to be sloppy hockey to start things off. Thats the best way for me to put it.

So its not surprising the Bruins' power forward was lagging slightly behind, and breathing with a little more urgency, during a fast-paced Monday morning informal skate at BUs Agganis Arena that included Tyler Seguin, Shawn Thornton, Brad Marchand, Gregory Campbell, Adam McQuaid and Tuukka Rask, among others.

But Lucic also was absent quite a bit during the months of November and December while some of his Boston-based teammates continued to grind through joyless skates waiting for the NHL lockout to be over.

He explained that absence when asked about it a month ago.

It definitely was difficult to stay motivated when the NHL cancelled the entire month of November, said Lucic to CSNNE.com. It was really hard. It came to a point where I decided to step back from the ice a bit because I felt like I was hurting myself rather than helping myself.

It was more into getting healthy in all my off-ice stuff.

There is clearly rust that needs to be shaken off as the players prepare for NHL training camp to open next weekend. At points on Monday Lucic trailed his teammates on rushes up the ice, and didnt have the quick skating feet hell need during the season. But its a far cry from the cautionary tale of Blues forward Keith Tkachuk during the last lockout: He gained so much weight during the 2004-05 cancelled season that it took weeks before was allowed on the ice after a rigorous dry-land exercise program. Even after he returned, Tkachuk had one of his worst seasons with 15 goals, 36 points and a minus-15 rating in 41 games.

Its pretty clear that isnt the case here. Lucic scored a pair of goals during a spirited, loose game that ended practice and showed encouraging flashes of the jump hes known for.

After the skate was over, Lucic brushed off whispers his conditioning isnt up to par with the regular season approaching.

He's at the same 230-pound playing weight that he ended last season, and will use the week of training camp to get himself.

In Lucics mind hes always been in good condition, but theres no way to ever replicate game shape. The quick stops and starts, the battles in the corner, the maximum energy eked out of prolonged shifts are activities that cant be experienced in glorified games of non-contact shinny.

Youre never really in game shape until youre playing in games, said Lucic. I try to keep myself in shape, but we still have to weeks to get into game shape. Ive never had a problem with my conditioning at any level, so Ill be ready. Ive stayed the same weight. Its been hard, but Ive stayed the same.

The bottom line is this: The Bruins need the Lucic that has averaged 28 goals and 128 PIMs over the last two seasons, and whose three-year, 18 million contract kicks in next year. It may take a few weeks or a month for Lucic -- a notorious slow starter during training camps -- to get the engine going, but he certainly wont be alone in that category living in the unique circumstances following the NHL lockout.

OFFSEASON

Report: Celtics to bring back Gerald Green with one-year deal

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Report: Celtics to bring back Gerald Green with one-year deal

The Celtics will sign free agent Gerald Green, the guard they drafted with the 18th overall pick back in 2005, Sean Deveney of the Sporting News reported.

Green, 30, played for the Miami Heat last season and averaged 8.9 points a game. Deveney reports Green will sign a one-year guaranteed contract. 

Green has been well-traveled since being traded by the Celtics in the Kevin Garnett deal in 2007, the year he won the NBA All-Star Slam Dunk contest. He has played for seven other NBA teams and played two seasons in Russia. His best season was 2013-14 in Phoenix when he averaged 15.8 points a game for the Suns. 

Deveney also reports that sources around the league continue to indicate the Celtics are looking to make a trade for a "star-caliber type" player. Last week, he reported on their interest in the Clippers' Blake Griffin. 

 

Three things we learned from the Red Sox' 2-1 loss to the Twins

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Three things we learned from the Red Sox' 2-1 loss to the Twins

Three Things we learned from the Boston Red Sox' 2-1 loss to the Minnesota Twins:

1) It only seems like David Ortiz can come through every time.

When Ortiz comes to the plate as he did Friday night -- bases loaded, no out, bottom of the ninth, Red Sox trailing by a run -- it seems like a win is a fait accompli.

"I think everybody in the ballpark just assumed this one might have a chance to be ended right there,'' said John Farrell. "He's been so big for us that everybody in the dugout felt the same way -- confident that the stage was set for him to come through with another dramatic moment.''

Instead, Ortiz rolled over a ground ball to second, and with the Twins infield drawn in, it was enough to turn a 4-2-3 double play that took the starch out of the inning for the Sox.

If anything, though, the inning revealed how remarkable Ortiz has been so often. It's not easy to come through even most times, and it's certainly far from automatic.

"The pitcher (closer Brandon Kintzler) made good pitches,'' said Ortiz. "That's the name of the game. I'm always looking forward to something happening. It just doesn't work out all the time.''

2) Eduardo Rodriguez has his slider back.

When Rodriguez endured a rough stretch in late May and June, he seemed to all but abandon his slider, relying almost exclusively on his two-seam fastball and changeup.

But since returning from a stint in Pawtucket, Rodriguez has flashed the slider that made him so effective as a rookie last season.

"Since he's come back,'' said Farrell, "he's added much more depth. He's able to get to the back foot of some righthanders for some swing-and-miss. He was on the plate with three quality pitches for strikes tonight.''

"I feel like I can locate it better, where I want it,'' confirmed Rodriguez. "Outside, inside corner...I'm getting more confident in it. I think I got out of my mind the tipping (pitches) stuff and all that stuff and I'm just working to throw the ball right where I want it.''

It's almost impossible for a starter in the big leagues to survive with just two pitches, as Rodriguez was attempting to do earlier this season. And it seems foolish to even try, given that Rodriguez's slider can be a plus-pitch for him at times.

3) If Mookie Betts has to miss some time, the Red Sox have options in right field.

Farrell said Betts has been dealing with soreness and stiffness in his right knee since after the All-Star break and has been undergoing treatment.

There's no evidence that this is serious, and he's considered day-to-day. But even if Betts needs some time off, or in a worse-case scenario, has to go on the DL, the Sox can do some things with their outfield.

Michael Martinez's best outfield position is right, as he demonstrated Friday night after taking over for Betts in the top of the fifth. Martinez ran a long way to grab a ball in foul territory for the final out in the sixth, then turned in a fine, tumbling catch in the eighth to take extra bases away from Adam Grossman.

Bryce Brentz, who's been in a platoon of sorts in left with Brock Holt, has played a lot of right field in the minors and has the arm strength to play there.

Finally, there's the matter of Andrew Benintendi. The Sox raised some eyebrows with the news that they were having Benintendi move over to left field at Double A Portland, perhaps in anticipation of playing the position for Boston at some point later this year.

Benintendi is a natural center fielder and even though he doesn't much experience in right, if you're athletic enough to play center, you can usually move to either corner spot.