WILMINGTON — For at least the next four games, Milan Lucic will be without his regular center.
David Krejci, who sat out on Friday for the 10th time in the last 12 games, will not travel with his teammates to California on Sunday. The Bruins kick off their four-game trip Monday against Anaheim.
This would have been a problem. Earlier this season, Lucic became invisible without his centerman. This left the Bruins with one dependable offensive pairing: Carl Soderberg and Loui Eriksson.
But now that Lucic has joined Soderberg and Eriksson for the last three games instead of watching them work their stuff, the left wing has rediscovered his straight-line, goal-scoring rhythm.
Against Winnipeg on Friday, Lucic scored the tying goal in the third period. Against Pittsburgh on Tuesday, Lucic also tied the game, this time in the second period. It’s the first time Lucic has scored in consecutive games this season.
On both occasions, Lucic scored by crashing the net, an elemental aspect of his north-south approach.
“It’s nice to finally get some results, get two goals in back-to-back games, and see where I scored them and how I scored them,” Lucic said. “They’re things I have to do if I want to score goals. Driving the net, establishing position in front of the net, and also stopping there to pick up anything that’s loose. Saying that, it was two really good passes that got me those goals.”
Eriksson set up Lucic against the Penguins. Eriksson carried the puck down low and took Olli Maatta and Christian Ehrhoff with him. By drawing the defensemen his way, Eriksson opened space for Lucic and hit him with an across-the-grain dish.
On Friday, Lucic and Soderberg played give-and-go. As Lucic approached the net, Soderberg passed the puck from the left corner, and Lucic tipped it past Jets goalie Michael Hutchinson.
They were creative, skilled plays. But the passes and goals happened because the line raced through the neutral zone.
“If we continue playing north-south, that’s how we’re going to continue creating chances,” Lucic said. “As soon as we take it east-west and start dipsy-doodling, we start turning pucks over like we did in the first period [against Winnipeg]. A big part of our game is using our size and getting going off the rush and establishing the offensive zone. That’s the way for us to have continued success, especially heading into a road trip like this against some really good teams.”
Looking for traction
In Friday’s third period and overtime, coach Claude Julien gave Reilly Smith shifts in Brad Marchand’s place next to Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak. Julien recognized that Bergeron and Pastrnak were creating chances. He wanted Smith to get in on the action.
Smith doesn’t have a point in his last eight games. Nineteen straight shots have hit goalies instead of the back of the net. Smith’s shooting percentage is down to 9.3 percent. Last season, Smith buried 13.7 percent of his shots and scored 20 goals.
“He’s worked hard,” Julien said. “I think his production is probably not what he wants or what we expect. We’d like to see him produce a little more. He’s one of probably a few more of those. I think his work ethic and compete level have been pretty good. We didn’t take him off that line because we weren’t satisfied. We took him off that line because we wanted Dave Pastrnak on that right side.”
Smith has four goals, with one coming on the power play. He practiced on Saturday on the third line with Chris Kelly and Seth Griffith.
Miller misses practice
Kevan Miller didn’t practice because of an undisclosed injury. Julien said Miller was dinged up against the Jets. Because of Miller’s absence, the Bruins recalled Zach Trotman on an emergency basis. Miller will travel on Sunday to California, his home state. If Miller can play against the Ducks, Trotman will be the extra defenseman . . . Zdeno Chara skated before practice under the watch of strength and conditioning coach John Whitesides. Chara looked comfortable skating on his edges and taking shots. He will remain at home to continue his recovery. The Bruins do not know how much more time Chara will require before he’s ready to play . . . David Warsofsky practiced for the first time since pulling his groin Nov. 6 against Edmonton. Once Warsofsky is at full strength, he will report to Providence.