Lucic reaches 20-goal mark, wants more

191545.jpg

Lucic reaches 20-goal mark, wants more

By DannyPicard
CSNNE.com

BOSTON -- Milan Lucic is happy. But in no way is he satisfied.

Not even after scoring his 20th goal on Wednesday night at the TD Garden, helping the Bruins to a 2-1 win over the Florida Panthers.

His wrist shot from the top of the left circle beat Tomas Vokoun to the top-right corner and gave the B's a 2-0 lead in the opening minutes of the second period.

It's the first time in his four-year career that Lucic has reached the 20-goal mark. It comes in just 47 games. The closest he came to that mark was two seasons ago, when he finished his sophomore campaign with 17 goals in 72 regular-season games.

Reaching the 20-goal mark was always something Lucic expected to accomplish. Others thought he'd eventually reach it as well. But bot many thought it would come this quickly into a season.

Including Lucic himself.

"That was a big question coming in, for myself and a lot of people," said Lucic. "I thought I was able to get to that 20-goal mark. It came a lot quicker than I thought, but most importantly, it was a big goal to help the team win here, and it's great that we're first in the division, heading into the All-Star break."

The Bruins are first in the division and third in the conference, thanks in part to Lucic's offensive outburst in the first half of the year.

To put into perspective just how much Lucic's offense has meant to the team through 50 games this season, just look at Nathan Horton's recent 20-game slide, in which he has only one goal.

Horton was acquired to put the puck in the net, more than than anyone else on the team. He has only 12 goals at the All-Star break, a total that should be considered an "underachievement."

Add Horton's midseason slump to Marc Savard's continuous concussion issues, and this is a Bruins team that could only be first place in the division if someone stepped up and had a career year.

Lucic seems to be that guy.

"I think Lucic is at a stage in his career now, where he's still a young player, but he's got enough experience," said Bruins coach Claude Julien. "This is going to be his fourth year, but he's one of those guys that is building consistency in his game. And what should I expect from him? I should expect him to continue playing a physical game. We should expect him to continue to produce, because he's capable of doing that. I think what we've seen in the first half, is what he's capable of doing for us, as we move on.

"He's also one of those players that I think always comes up big in the big games, such as playoffs, and all that stuff. He's one of those guys that really rises to the occasion, so you hope that continues as well."

There wasn't an All-Star break last year because of the Olympics. But in the final three months of the regular season (from February on), Lucic scored only six goals. After 20 goals through the month of January this season, seeing Lucic with only six goals in the final three months this year would be awfully disappointing to Bruins fans, and the organization.

But in fairness to his struggles last season, Lucic admitted after the fact that his high-ankle sprain, which he suffered in late November, affected his production for the rest of the season.

His ankle seems to be healthy this season, and as a result, he's already scored 11 more goals this season than he scored all of last year, in three less games.

Knowing that now he needs to be one of the go-to offensive threats on the Bruins this season, Lucic isn't satisfied with 20.

"It was real tough, going through what I went through, being out for so long, and especially, even when I came back, that high-ankle sprain was still bugging me," said Lucic about last season's struggles. "To work as hard as I did this summer, and to get rewarded for it thus far throughout the season is great. I can't stop here. I've got to keep pushing for more."

Danny Picard is on Twitter at http:twitter.comDannyPicard. You can listen to Danny on hisstreaming radio show I'm Just Sayin' Monday-Friday from9-10 a.m. on CSNNE.com.

Bruins bouncing between left wings Schaller and Spooner on Krejci line

bruins_ryan_spooner_120216.jpg

Bruins bouncing between left wings Schaller and Spooner on Krejci line

BRIGHTON, Mass. – It certainly doesn’t feel like it will go on forever this way for the Bruins, but at this point it’s essentially a case of musical left wings on the David Krejci line as it’s been for much of this season. 

Ryan Spooner has spent the majority of the season adjusting to playing the wing with Krejci, and has been just okay trying to play away from his natural center spot while using his speed and playmaking on the wing. But the speedy Spooner also spent his share of time lately on the fourth line after getting off to a slow offensive start this season with three goals and eight points along with a minus-1 rating in 23 games. 

The bouncing between the second and fourth line has undoubtedly been frustrating for the 24-year-old getting pushed off his natural position after posting 49 points in his first full year as a third line center. But Spooner has continued to toe the company line, work on keeping his confidence high for a productive offensive season and do what he needs to in an effort to get off a fourth line.

That’s opened the door for hard-nosed former Providence College standout Tim Schaller to get some top-6 forward time on the Krejci line as well, but he’s just posted a single assist in the last three games while working hard to keep up offensively with David Krejci and David Backes. The 6-foot-2, 219-pound Schaller has the grittiness to do the dirty work for that line in the corners and in front of the net, and he can certainly skate well enough for a big, energy forward. 

“To think this was going to happen, I would say ‘no’,” said Schaller when asked if he could have predicted at the start of the season that he’d be getting a look from the B’s in a top-6 role. “I’ve been able to play with whoever and whenever my whole career. I wouldn’t want to say it’s one of those things that I had expected, but I’m always ready for it. 

“We’ve been working pretty well together. I don’t know that we’ve had too many great [offensive] opportunities to capitalize on, but Backes and Krejci are good enough players that they’ll come. They’re good enough to bury on those chances, so the goals will come. I’m always going to play the same way no matter who I’m with. Those guys might have the puck on their sticks a little longer than other linemates of mine, but that will just create more space and opportunities.”

So Spooner and Schaller bring different strengths and weaknesses to the table as the B’s coaching staff searches for the right fit alongside Krejci and Backes, and Julien sounds like a coach that’s going to keep swinging back and forth between the two players. He certainly did that with Spooner during the third period in Philly, which led to an immediate goal for Krejci in the third period comeback, and toward the end of the Carolina win with the B's desperate for offense. 

Julien also didn’t rule out Matt Beleskey getting another look there as well with the Bruins having a tough time finding anybody to consistently fill Loui Eriksson’s role from last season.

“At times I don’t think that offense has been producing much because maybe it’s lacking a little bit of speed at that time, so you put Spooner back up there. But sometimes you feel like that line isn’t winning enough battles or spending enough time in the offensive zone, so you put Schaller back in there because he’s going to play a little grittier. So we’re looking there,” said Julien. “We’d love to be able to find somebody to be a consistent player there. We’ve had Matt Beleskey there and that line never really did anything. 

“[Beleskey] has been much better on the [third] line and he’s been getting more chances, so I’ve been trying to put the best scenario together, I guess. Sometimes it’s the situation and sometimes it’s the matchup [against the other team] as well. So there are different reasons for that. I’ve just got to make it work. If it’s working with [Schaller] on that night then you stick with it, and if you don’t think you’re getting enough then you move [Spooner] there and see if you can a little spark with some speed. It doesn’t mean Beleskey won’t go back there. That’s what we have right now.”

So it’s clear Julien, and the B’s coaching staff, have simply tried to find something that will work on a consistent basis with a couple of key offensive players on Boston’s second most important forward line. The one wild card in all of this: the impending return of Frank Vatrano, who has been skating for nearly two weeks as he works toward a return from foot surgery.

Vatrano was initially penciled in as the left winger alongside Krejci to start NHL camp this fall, and the Bruins were hoping he was going to build on the eight goals he scored in Boston last season in a limited role.

Vatrano could be ready to play within the next couple of weeks, and should be back in the B’s lineup prior to the early January timetable originally offered at the time of his surgery. So perhaps the 22-year-old Vatrano can end this season-long carousel of Bruins left wingers getting paraded on and off the Krejci line, and finally give the B’s greater options at left wing. 

But the Czech playmaking center could use some stability also as he looks to find the highest level of his game in a challenging year for the Black and Gold, and do it while the Bruins find the right kind of talent to skate alongside him. 

Blidh plans to bring some energy to Bruins after call-up

Blidh plans to bring some energy to Bruins after call-up

BRIGHTON, Mass. – Anton Blidh plans on keeping things pretty straightforward on his first call-up to the NHL. 

The former sixth-round pick of the Bruins has earned his stripes at the AHL level with Providence over the last couple of seasons, and comes to Boston as a gritty, energy forward capable of stirring things up in otherwise sleepy games. There’s also a bit of offensive upside for a fourth line-type player with five goals and nine points with 22 penalty minutes and a plus-eight rating in 19 games for the P-Bruins this season. 

It remains to be seen if the Blidh call-up means that the Bruins intend to scratch a player or that somebody is questionable for Saturday afternoon’s game in Buffalo, but Patrice Bergeron did miss Friday’s practice without any real defined reason for his absence. The 21-year-old Swede said he plans to play to his strengths if he gets into the lineup for the Black and Gold, and that could mean getting under the skin of his Sabres opponents. 

“It’s my first time called up, so I’m happy,” said Blidh, who was asked what he'll bring if he gets into the lineup. “I’ll just play simple and play my own game: be hard on the puck and play with some energy. I worked hard [in Providence] and then I got some confidence. I’m not a goal-scorer, but I scored a couple of goals and got some confidence.”

Claude Julien hasn’t been able to catch up Blidh’s work since the season got started, but was pleased by the youngster’s progress in training camp, where he earned notice for his feisty, physical play on a line with Noel Acciari. 

“They said he’s playing well, so they brought him up. We’ll get to see him, hopefully tomorrow,” said Julien. “I didn’t hear a ton of fine details aside from him being a guy that was certainly playing with a lot of energy. I didn’t mind him in training camp either. He works really hard and competes hard, and we could use that.”

That would certainly be the case after watching the Bruins go through the motions for long stretches Thursday night against Carolina before essentially stealing a game that they didn’t deserve to win.