Lucic looking to pick up the pace

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Lucic looking to pick up the pace

By JoeHaggerty
CSNNE.com

Milan Lucic is Bostons offensive game-breaker with his team-leading 30 goals, and theres little argument there.

Lucic has come to the forefront with an improved shot and release, and theres nothing to dislike about his skating game when hes moving with purpose and power to clean opponents out in the corner or camping in front of the net with his 6-foot-4, 230-pound frame.

But Lucic will also go through cycles in his game when his work ethic wanes ever so slightly and his nose for the net is lost, and thats been the case over the last two games as the hulking left wing hasnt registered a single shot.

For Lucic to not get one shot in 35:03 of ice time is something that hasnt happened much this season. In fact, its only happened twice, and Lucic hasnt gone three straight games without a shot.

We want to make sure that we dont coast going into the playoffs. We want to make surer were staying sharp, and that were at our best when were heading into it, said Lucic. If you look at the games when weve been most successful, its been when weve been strong on the puck in the other teams zone, getting in front of the net and getting to the dirty areas.

Look at Nathan Hortons goal Sunday night. Both of us get to the front of the net, we get a good shot from the point and we pick up a rebound. Same with the power-play goal we scored against Montreal. Its just about getting to those areas where the rebounds are going to be. We have to use our bodies to muscle our way in . . . thats for sure.

Coach Claude Julien has seen these kinds of short stretches from Lucic before and the biggest key is to nip any bad habits early on before it becomes a 10-game scoreless stretch, like the power forward went through earlier this season.

Julien wants to see more of the simple power-and-possession game out of Lucic and fellow big body Horton when chasing after pucks, and its clear they havent been at their powerful best over the last two games.

Their line hasnt been quite as productive because I think theyre trying to force some plays at the blue line and trying to make clean plays rather than realizing sometimes youve got to get pucks in deep, said Julien. With Horton and Lucic on both sides, youve got to realize youre going to come up with it most times and be able to control it, and I think they just have to put a little more grit in their minds.

Sometimes its not always going to be pretty and youve got to put a little work into it. Thats a small adjustment they can make easily. Theyve done it before, and if they can do it theyll be a little more productive and a little more into the style of play that has given them success.

Lucic isnt invisible on the ice even when hes not squeezing off shots, however, and was a big presence in front of the net on Hortons game-tying power play goal Sunday night in Philadelphia. Video replays showed two Flyers defenders hovering around Lucic while the rebound was being kicked out, and that left Horton uncovered while hanging out by the left post. He pushed in the rebound for his 23rd goal of the season, but Lucics imprints were all over the goal even if he didnt technically factor into the goal from a statistical standpoint.

Thats proof positive that the 23-year-old is still contributing even when he's not racking up points or goals. But a playoff hockey teams No. 1 line is all about influencing a game and proving some points and production on a consistent basis.

Lucic has been steady with his contributions just about all season, and itll be back to the dirty work for No. 17 Tuesday night against the reigning Stanley Cup champs from Chicago.

Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com.Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs

Wednesday, Dec. 7: Rangers in trouble?

Wednesday, Dec. 7: Rangers in trouble?

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while ready for the Chris Sale era to begin with the Red Sox in a 1975 throwback uniform at Fenway’s opening day.

*Larry Brooks says that the New York Rangers are in “deep trouble” despite all of the goals that they’re scoring, and here’s why.

*The New York Islanders are playing with fire when it comes to John Tavares potentially leaving if they can’t find a running mate for him.

*Good piece from FOH (Friend of Haggs) Marc Spector about Kris Russell defying the analytical critics with his work for the Edmonton Oilers.

*Scary scene with the New Jersey Devils and Vancouver Canucks where Taylor Hall knocked out Philip Larsen with a hit, and then touched a brawl where the unconscious Larsen was kicked in the head a couple of times.

*Here’s some very good news about former B’s forward Craig Cunningham, who has begun communicating with his AHL teammates through Facetime calls and is alert, joking and sounding like somebody that’s starting to make a slow recovery from whatever mysterious thing caused him to collapse prior to a Roadrunners game.

*Flyers D-man Shayne Gostisbehere has made such a splash with the Broad Street Bullies that he’s got a “Ghost Bear” beer named after him.

*For something completely different: The first trailer for "Spider Man: Homecoming" is going to be shown during Jimmy Kimmel, and it’s looking pretty cool in this snippet.

Bruins hope OT win was sign of things to come offensively

Bruins hope OT win was sign of things to come offensively

BOSTON -- For a team where offense has been a major problem area this season, lighting the lamp four times against the Florida Panthers on Monday night was a welcomed sight for the Bruins indeed.

The Bruins won it in dazzling fashion with a 4-3 overtime win on a David Pastrnak rush to the net after he totally undressed D-man Mike Matheson on his way to the painted area, and then skill took over for him easily beating Roberto Luongo with a skate-off goal.

That was the game-breaker doing his thing and finishing with a pair of goals in victory, and continuing to push a pace that has the 20-year-old right wing on track for more than 40 goals this season.

That would give the Bruins just their fourth 40-goal scorer in the last 25 years of franchise history (Glen Murray in 2002-03, Bill Guerin in 2001-02 and Cam Neely in 1993-94), and mark one of the bigger reasons behind an expected offensive surge that may just be coming for a Black and Gold group currently ranked 23rd in the league in offense.

They just hope that the four strikes vs. Florida is indeed a harbinger of things to come for the rest of the season after serving as just the eighth time in just 26 games this season that they scored more than two goals.

“[There have been] a lot of tight games and low-scoring games, you’re right. It’s good, but as a goalie, I’m not happy when I let in three goals, ever. But it’s great to see that scoring support,” said Tuukka Rask. “When you get four goals, you expect to win, and a lot of times when we get three, I expect to win. It’s great to see [an uptick in scoring].”

So what is there to be optimistic about from a B’s offensive perspective aside from Pastrnak blowing up for a couple more goals to keep pace among the NHL league leaders with Sidney Crosby and Patrick Laine?

Well, the Bruins are starting to see results from crashing to the front of the net, attacking in the offensive zone and finally finishing off plays after serving as one of the best puck possession teams in the league over the first few months.

Just look at how the goals were scored, and how the Bruins are working in closer to the net rather than settling for perimeter plays.

The first goal on Monday night was a result of Tim Schaller crashing down the slot area for a perfectly executed one-timer feed from David Krejci. Similarly David Pastrnak was hanging around in front of the net in the second period when a no-look, spinning Brad Marchand dish from behind the net came his way, and he wasn’t going to miss from that range against Roberto Luongo. Then David Backes parked his big body in front of the Florida net in the third period, and redirected a Ryan Spooner shot up and over Luongo for the score that got the Bruins into overtime.

It’s one of a couple of goals scored by Backes down low recently, and his third goal in the last five games as he heats up with his playmaking center in Krejci. The 32-year-old Backes now has seven goals on the season and is on pace for 26 goals after a bit of a slow start, and the offense is coming for that line as they still search for balance in their two-way hockey play.

“A few more guys are feeling [better] about their games, and know that we’re capable of putting a crooked number up like that. It bodes well moving forward,” said Backes. “But you can’t think that we’re going to relax after the effort that we put in. We’ve got to skill to those dirty areas and still get those second and third chances, and not take anything off during those opportunities. It’s got to go to the back of the net.

“With the way Tuukka has played, and our defense has been stingy and our penalty kill has been on, four goals should be a win for our team. It hasn’t always been easy for us this year. It’s been a process, but I think you’re starting to see the things that you need to see in order for us to score goals. We’re going to the front of the net and getting extended offensive zone time, and then you find a few guys like Pasta in the slot. That’s a good recipe for us.”

Then there’s Ryan Spooner, who enjoyed his best game of the season on Monday night and set up the B’s third goal of the game with his speed and creativity. It was noticeable watching Spooner play with his unbridled skating speed and creative playmaking, and it made a discernible difference in Boston’s overall offensive attack against Florida. It’s something that Claude Julien is hoping to see more of moving forward from Spooner after recent trade rumors really seemed to spark the 23-year-old center, and also knocked some of the inconsistency from a player that’s extremely dangerous offensively when he’s “on.”

“It’s obvious that if Ryan wants to give us those kinds of games, then we have lots of time for him. When he doesn’t we just can’t afford to give him that kind of ice time,” said Julien. “There are games where he hasn’t been as involved, and it’s obvious and apparent to everybody that when he’s not getting involved then he’s not helping our team. When he is playing the way he did yesterday, we can certainly use that player more than not. We’d love to see him get consistent with those kinds of games.”

So while it’s clear the Bruins aren’t completely out of the woods offensively and there are still players like Patrice Bergeron sitting below their usual offensive numbers, it’s also been a little mystifying to watch Boston struggle so much offensively given their talent level.

The Black and Gold fully realized that potential in taking a tough divisional game from Florida on Monday night, and they hope it’s something to build on as the schedule doesn’t let up at all in the coming weeks.