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.