The way Claude Julien sees it, Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton don’t have the space they require to make the fancy plays they’ve been trying.
But there’s a simple solution: skate.
“I think they’ve got to go back to their north-south game,” said the Bruins coach. “I don’t think there’s a single team in the league that likes to see Lucic forechecking or going after a loose puck.
“Same thing with Nathan Horton. When he’s on his game, he’s committed to it. He’s another real physical player that can forecheck and put teams on their heels.”
The two power forwards incorporated some of those improvements in Thursday’s 4-1 win over the Panthers. Lucic, Horton, and David Krejci were on the ice for Zdeno Chara’s goal at 3:55 of the first.
“It was a little bit better,” Julien said. “Those guys skated a little bit better tonight. It was a step in the right direction. We know they’re capable of doing more. But what we wanted to see was a step in the right direction. They did that.”
On Chara’s goal, Horton picked a puck off the boards in the offensive zone, spotted Krejci going to the net, and gave the puck to his center. Krejci’s slapper went wide of the net and glanced off the end boards. Chara found the puck and beat Scott Clemmensen for his sixth goal.
Neither Lucic nor Horton has found the scoring touch. Lucic has one goal in his last 14 games, Horton one goal in his last 11.
The two almost connected in the third period for a power-play goal. Lucic, parked in front, tripped on Clemmensen’s stick. As Lucic fell, he tumbled onto Clemmensen. Horton snapped a shot into the empty net at 16:26. But the goal was waved off because Lucic was sitting on top of Clemmensen, preventing him from playing the shot.
Before the game, Julien noted that Lucic and Horton had been attempting skilled plays in tight situations, which had gotten them in trouble.
Because opponents had been keeping tight gaps against Lucic and Horton, they had been quick to jump on pucks. Lucic, Horton, and Krejci had chased the game instead of controlling its pace.
Once the big men reclaim their punishing, straight-line style, possession and scoring chances could increase. Both have enough speed and skill to take advantage of slack gaps.
“What that does, eventually, is that it backs guys off,” Julien said. “When they back guys off, they’re capable of making plays like they had been just inside the blue line. Right now, there doesn’t seem to be the intention of putting pucks in areas where those guys can use that to their advantage. They’re forcing plays a little too much in the neutral zone, which ends up being turnovers. They’re not utilizing their strengths to their advantage.”
The Kelly effect
Against Florida, Rich Peverley served as the No. 3 center for the second straight game. Peverley will be Chris Kelly’s replacement as the ex-Senator recovers from his broken left tibia.
“Pev is going to have to fill some big shoes there, with Kells being a real versatile centerman that can do a lot of different things for our team,” Julien said. “The other thing about Rich is that he’s extremely good on faceoffs.”
Kelly’s absence has created a trickle-down effect throughout the lineup. The Bruins now have only one left-shot center in Gregory Campbell. They liked the flexibility of having Kelly and Campbell complementing Krejci and Patrice Bergeron, who are right-shot centers.
The Bruins will also need their penalty killers to assume Kelly’s shorthanded role. Jay Pandolfo, now the No. 3 left wing, will take some of Kelly’s PK shifts. Julien could also tap Krejci, a regular penalty killer two seasons ago. Julien could deploy Krejci late in penalties. That would allow Julien to roll out Lucic and Horton to start the shift after a kill’s conclusion.
McQuaid sits out
The Bruins were without Adam McQuaid because of an undisclosed injury. Julien said it was minor and the defenseman is considered day-to-day. McQuaid was shaken up in Tuesday’s 3-2 loss to Pittsburgh. He took a puck off the right arm in the first period, and played 14:19 against the Penguins.
Aaron Johnson, who hadn’t played since Jan. 29, replaced McQuaid. Johnson, playing mostly with Johnny Boychuk, had one shot and four hits in 17:43 of ice time.
Lining things up
In 2013-14, the Bruins will play in an eight-team division as part of the NHL’s realignment plan, which was approved Tuesday. They will play in the Eastern Conference, in a division to be renamed later. The Bruins will play five games each against two division opponents and four each against the other five. They will play three games each against teams from the other Eastern Conference division. They will play two games each against the 14 Western Conference clubs. The top three regular-season finishers in each division will qualify for the playoffs, with two remaining spots in each conference to be filled by the teams with the most points, regardless of division.
The Bruins signed prospect Anthony Camara to a three-year, entry-level contract Thursday. Camara was the team’s third-round pick in 2011. The 6-foot, 190-pounder has 36 goals and 24 assists along with 80 penalty minutes in 48 games for Barrie (Ontario Hockey League). Camara, who played alongside Dougie Hamilton for Team Canada in the World Junior Championships, could report to Providence once Barrie concludes its playoff run. Camara is likely to start the 2013-14 season in Providence, and he projects to be a bottom-six NHL grinder . . . Julien recorded his 246th win as Bruins coach, passing Milt Schmidt to take over second place on the team’s all-time list behind Art Ross (361) . . . Bergeron won 18 of 23 faceoffs . . . Lane MacDermid was the healthy scratch.Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto.