WASHINGTON – The narrative was that without David Krejci, Milan Lucic would be lost. He played better with his security blanket at center, a player who made him and the team better in equal doses.
But since Feb. 20, that hasn’t been an option. Krejci went down with a partial tear of the MCL in his left knee, costing him 4-6 weeks. Lucic, it seemed, would be back to where he had been during Krejci’s previous absences — nearly invisible.
That hasn’t happened, with Lucic scoring four goals and adding four assists in the 11 games since Krejci has been out of the lineup, buoyed by the speed of Ryan Spooner and David Pastrnak.
Spooner and Pastrnak have gotten Lucic skating, forcing him to move his legs, to turn around a season stuck in neutral.
“This young line that he’s with is a real good skating line, and we’ve always said when Looch skates, that’s when he’s at his best,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “Those guys have probably forced him to skate even more.
“[Krejci] is a guy that will slow down the pace of the game, make great plays, and when he’s got some good wingers with him he’ll feed them on the fly. Right now with Looch it’s about keeping up to those young, quick legs that’s on his line, and it’s really helped his game a lot.”
It’s not like this is a revelation. Lucic tries to work on his skating and speed in his offseason training regimen. With Krejci, Lucic is not forced to pick up the pace in the same way he is with Spooner and Pastrnak alongside him, given Krejci’s tendency to keep the game at a slightly more moderate pace.
That — plus the easier defensive responsibilities than he’s used to getting — has produced a line that has produced. It has pushed Lucic’s numbers (15 goals, 39 points in 68 games) into the realm of acceptable from the depths of earlier in the season.
“A lot of people don’t view my game as a skating game, but when I’m skating, that’s when I’m most effective, and when I’m moving my feet,” Lucic said. “We talk about that straight-line type of hockey, but you can only play that if your legs are going and it seems to be the reason why I’ve had success of late, playing with these guys.
“But on the other hand, Krech does like to slow the game down and all that type of stuff. I figured out playing with him how to get my feet moving and stuff like that with him in the past. Unfortunately it hasn’t worked out that great for both of us this year, but I think if you’re looking at it right now, I think it is a good thing playing that type of style, that quick-skating game. It’s definitely gotten me more involved than I had been earlier on in the season.”
With Krejci in the lineup, Lucic scored eight goals and had 17 assists in 37 games. That’s .68 points per game. Without his new line, Lucic is averaging .73 points per game, albeit in a much smaller sample size (11 games).
Lucic, despite his recent success, lamented the fact that Krejci has been injured for so much of this season, playing just 38 games total. As he said, “Who knows where I’d be at if he was healthy all year? I definitely miss him.”
But Lucic couldn’t deny the uptick in his play with Spooner as his center, the differences it has made to his game. Differences that, perhaps, he might carry over when he will likely be reunited with Krejci at the end of the season or in the playoffs, though Julien has yet to commit to a lineup when Krejci returns.
“Sometimes you can overthink about how many goals and assists and points you want to end up with,” Lucic said. “Sometimes that mind-set gets you into trouble.
“You’re not doing the little things and the right things that gets you the goals and assists and points.
“I just said to myself, ‘Just forget about all that and go out there and play and do what you do and hopefully it can contribute to the team.’ ”
Because when he’s skating, Lucic finds room. He has space to make things happen, for himself and his linemates. That’s the idea, and that’s what has generally happened.
“I think that’s why I put a lot of emphasis on my skating night in, night out, and I think that’s why Claude is always on me to have my feet moving and stuff like that,” Lucic said. “It’s always been probably the biggest part of my game for having my game going the way that it needs to be going.
“Just got to keep doing it.”
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @amaliebenjamin.