By all accounts, head coach Darryl Sutter is a major fan of Milan Lucic and the rugged approach he brings to the game. That, in large part, was why the long-time bench boss remained patient with his veteran forward while so many fans and media alike were calling for him to be taken out of the lineup.
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Having failed to score a goal in 61 consecutive games, Sutter finally had no choice but to pull Lucic from the lineup. It had to have been somewhat of an embarrassment for the 2011 Stanley Cup champion, who had not been healthy scratched since 2013. Nevertheless, he came out of the lineup for three straight games, and instead of moping, he appears to be using it as motivation.
Lucic Contributing Offensively
In just his second game after sitting as a healthy scratch, Lucic was able to score his first of the season, as well as his first in 62 games, in a 5-2 win over the San Jose Sharks on Dec. 18. By no means was it the prettiest of goals, as his one-timer glanced off of Erik Karlsson before finding its way past Kaapo Kahkonen. As they say, however, no one asks how, and it appears that getting off the schneid may have opened the floodgates a little bit for the hulking winger.
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In his very next game, which took place this past Tuesday in another tilt versus the Sharks, Lucic was first able to give Nazem Kadri a great feed in the third period to give the Flames a 4-3 lead before scoring his second of the season a few minutes later to give his team a two-goal lead. It was a tremendous showing for a player who has faced plenty of adversity in recent years.
After being considered a premier power forward for many years with the Boston Bruins, Lucic’s game has fallen off tremendously in recent seasons. His foot speed, paired with the current speed of the game itself, has really taken its toll on his play. That said, confidence can have a major impact on players, and it is clear that right now, he has more of it than we have seen in some time.
Lucic’s solid play over his past three games hasn’t just been by contributing on the scoresheet, either. He looks far more engaged than he had prior to getting taken out of the lineup, something Sutter has noticed as well. In the two games he played before sitting, Lucic played less than six minutes in each contest. In his most recent three outings, however, he has played no less than 12:48, a true testament in Sutter’s eyes to how much better his play has been.
Lucic Leading By Example
Though Lucic has received a ton of flack from Flames fans, specifically during this season, he deserves plenty of credit for how he has handled this entire situation. Many veterans who have accomplished as much as he has at the NHL level would sulk and bring down the morale of the locker room. Instead, he waited for his opportunity to come back in and doesn’t look like a player who will be coming out anytime soon.
That said, how long this level of play continues from him is anyone’s guess. After all, as mentioned previously, it isn’t as if this is the first season Lucic has struggled. Long gone are the days when he could be counted on to score north of 20 goals and 50 points in a season. But if he can continue generating some chances while chipping in with some secondary scoring, he could have a much bigger role for this team down the stretch than anyone had imagined.