Edmonton Oilers forward Milan Lucic can even scores but also has to score goals
FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida — It’s not a good thing when you know which goalies you’ve beaten over the last 61 games because there’s only been two — Darcy Kuemper and Keith Kincaid — and you can describe how the goals were scored without going to video for a refresher, but that’s Milan Lucic’s lot in life.
So was an NHL phone hearing for trying to even a score and going after Tampa’s Mathieu Joseph, who had hit Kris Russell from behind. Not with his stick, or an elbow to the head, a hard body check, then he jumped on top of him and threw some punches.
The disciplinary hearing for a roughing penalty seemed hard to figure and Lucic managed to get off with a $10,000 fine. What’s just as mystifying to decipher is where Lucic’s hands have gone around the net.
Last season, the Edmonton Oilers winger’s body language clearly showed his frustration when there were no goals. Slumped shoulders, eye rolls, slammed doors, with only one goal from Christmas on. This season, while just having the one snipe (a good put away off a Connor McDavid feed in the Oct. 6 game in Sweden), he’s healthier of mind, maybe because the Oilers are 8-6-1, not playing out the string.
But pucks aren’t bouncing off his stick blade, he’s not missing passes. He’s making every goalie look like Marty Brodeur, who’s getting into the Hall of Fame this week, but that’s the story of guy who’s biggest problem is he’s not getting enough shots, just 15.
That has to change. That’s fewer than defenceman Adam Larsson, a shutdown guy, and fewer than Jesse Puljujarvi, who should be in Bakersfield, but that’s another story.
Lucic’s $6 million salary is owner Daryl Katz’s problem and the contract term is GM Peter Chiarelli’s concern, so we won’t go there.
Where we will go was seeing the old, angry bear in Tampa. We almost had a line brawl with McDavid jumping into the pile after set-to with Joseph. Lucic body checked him hard as he came off the boards, with Joseph not ready for it. In today’s NHL there is little retribution for perceived slights, but we saw what happens when a big bear is poked.
And if he’s not scoring, stuff like this is welcome. Fact is, he could do more of it, but opponents give him a wide berth.
“He sticks up for everyone out there but he’s also a huge presence in our room. Sometimes if things aren’t going that well for him, he’s still the most vocal guy in the room and guys lean on him for support,” said linemate Ryan Strome.
Strome finally got a point in his 15th game, a nice, against-the-grain shot and goal on Andrei Vasilevskiy, but Lucic has gone 14 straight without a goal.
Before he went after Joseph, he had only played 8:09, so that’s way below his norm. But he’s on the third line now.
It’s a catch 22. If he produces more, he’ll play more. But, his ice time is going down. He played 19 minutes in the season opener in Sweden. He’s had five games over 17. But, he might have only played 12 if the Joseph incident hadn’t happened.
“I’m doing everything I can to stay positive … be easy to get frustrated,” he said. “My mind-set coming into this year was stay positive and optimistic, no matter what happens. More for the team. The team’s playing well and that’s the most important thing. If I get down, that can have a trickle-down effect throughout the rest of the group.
“One hundred per cent I feel better about my game now than I did last year. It would be easy to get frustrated with no results. I’m trying to go back (years) to just shooting, not placing shots, shooting hard and those are the times you go post and in and high glove.
“I spent some time looking at old video of myself scoring goals. It’s reminding yourself you’re a good player.”
Oilers coach Todd McLellan badly needs Strome and Lucic to prop up the third line.
Strome’s scored, now it’s time for Lucic to jump on board.
“Milan’s presence is very important for our group and he’s been playing in straight lines and he’s been physical. He polices things out there,” said McLellan. “He’s created chances for other guys and when he’s been on the power play he’s been around the net and whacking away (he needs to be a better screen guy if he’s net-front, though). He’s had the puck on his tape in good areas. He’s had much better looks than he did last season.”
On Twitter: @NHLbyMatty
Author: Jim Matheson, Edmonton Journal