RALEIGH, N.C. — What Milan Lucic has been doing this season is, quite clearly, not enough.
With the Bruins mired in the middle of the standings in the Atlantic Division, the team needs more from its best players — and that starts with the powerful left wing who has just six goals and 12 assists in 39 games this season, well off the numbers that he can create.
That was highlighted in Saturday’s game against Ottawa, in which Lucic was fighting the puck at every turn, and eventually was moved to Patrice Bergeron’s line, with Brad Marchand elevated to play with David Krejci and Seth Griffith.
Asked what Lucic needs to do better, coach Claude Julien didn’t hesitate: “His whole game, I think.”
The coach was not pleased with the winger’s production in the overtime loss to the Senators — a game in which Lucic landed just a single shot on net — but it goes beyond that.
“He’s playing some important minutes on pretty good lines, so obviously we need more from him for those reasons,” Julien said. “He’s got to be capable of, again, more than one measly shot.”
Julian continued, “We’d like to see him do a lot more than what he’s done. He’s a heavy player and everybody talks about him hitting — yeah, that’s one part of his game — but he’s also a guy that with his size and strength he can go to the net hard and he can get his nose dirty in those areas and maybe that increases his goal production and stuff like that.”
It’s something that Lucic readily acknowledges. He hasn’t been himself. He hasn’t been good enough. Especially on a team that’s struggling to get wins.
“Obviously it’s been a frustrating year as far as production and when things like that happen you tend to overthink things, and right now I think I just need to clear my mind and stop overthinking and play the way that I can,” Lucic said.
That’s imperative. Lucic needs to improve. He needs to recover his play and his game and his production. Krejci has increased his level of play of late, finally seemingly recovered from the injuries that kept him out for much of the first half of the season. Now Lucic needs to match Krejci.
On Sunday, in a bad shootout loss to Carolina, Lucic had three shots on net — of the team’s 20 total — and added four more attempts on goal. He also had five hits and two blocked shots.
“I’ve always been able to thrive off him and kind of keep up with him as far as his game has gone,” Lucic said. “So right now I have to raise my level of game and it’s not like I haven’t been trying. It just has to come and you have to find it within yourself to create that excitement to go out there and play the right way.”
As the Bruins face the second half of a season that hasn’t gone their way, Lucic is trying to figure out himself and his season, a season that hasn’t gone the way he planned.
After Wednesday’s shootout loss to the Maple Leafs, Lucic said he was ready to turn the page to 2015 because 2014 hadn’t been all that good to him. He didn’t start the new year the way he had hoped, either, but there’s still time. And he needs to do something.
“Feel like I’ve done a little too much talking about explaining things and defending myself on things, so enough with the talking, it’s time to start playing the way that I can and the way that I know I can,” Lucic said. “Like I said after the New Year’s Eve game, it’s a new year. It’s 2015. It’s half a season left now.
“It’s time to get things going. And it starts with getting myself going and hopefully I can start contributing to the team in the right ways.”
He’s not complaining. He’s just trying to figure out a way to make it all work. As he said, “This is what I’ve got to stay on top of this year more than ever is trying to give certain guys a jolt.”
That, sometimes, has taken the form of a new line. Or a demotion. On Saturday, he swapped Lucic and Marchand. On Sunday, he switched Griffith and Reilly Smith in the first period, putting Smith with Lucic and Krejci.
“It’s part of the job and I certainly don’t feel sorry for myself or feel that it’s unfair,” Julien said. “That’s part of my job. You accept the good with the bad and sometimes times are tough and you’ve just got to grind it out.
“Am I digging deeper this year? I’m trying to. I’m trying to find solutions, but that’s what you’re supposed to do in those kind of situations. I’ve just got to stay on top of things and I’ve got to make sure I try and do the right things to turn this team around.”