For success in the playoffs the Calgary Flames will need all of their guns firing, and one that hasn’t been lately is Milan Lucic. It’s been that way for a long-time. Cries of “Looch, Looch” still rain down from the Saddledome’s rafters anytime the hulking left winger lays a bone-crushing hit on an opponent. Even so, many fans know deep down that he’ll have to deliver more than that when the playoffs start next week.
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Sure, Lucic is a tough guy and brings an intimidation factor to Calgary’s game. Even so, does anyone really think that in the playoffs other teams are going to roll over just because Lucic is patrolling the ice? Besides, the Flames have plenty of grit. They can’t afford a roster featuring players who bring only that.
Lucic in Zombie Slump Worthy of Walking Dead Episode
Lucic turned heads strolling into the Saddledome last Saturday night to face the Vancouver Canucks wearing a big black Stetson and bolo tie. Yet it’s been months since he’s turned heads with any contributions to the scoresheet. That thought had to be in the back of head coach Darryl Sutter’s mind when he said wryly of his fourth-line winger, “He’s gotta get a work cowboy hat — not a parade hat.” (from, ‘Lucic dresses to impress, then plays the part in Flames’ win over Canucks’, Calgary Sun, 24/04/2022)
After 40 games at the end of January, Lucic had a shot at putting up 20 goals on the season and qualifying as a 30-plus-point scorer. At that level, fans in the Stampede City could start to forget about the fact that a 33-year-old fourth liner, with his best days long behind him, is making $5.25 million per season.
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Yet as the Flames rolled into 2022 with high hopes of a long Cup run, Lucic seemed to disappear, leaving his fans to wonder who the guy was skating around wearing No. 17. He hasn’t registered a single point in April. Since the start of February, he has notched just one goal and four assists in what has become a zombie slump. It’s so bad that fans are nominating him for a role in The Walking Dead.
Lucic’s Problems Not Just Points Production
To be sure, the Flames miss Lucic on the scoreboard. Earlier in the season he had been among the Flames’ top-seven points-getters, yet his defensive play is cratering. Fans complain about failed clearing passes, passes to nobody in particular and clumsy stickhandling. As for his many turnovers, they joke that he missed his calling as a pastry chef.
Lucic was impressive in the Flames’ 6-3 victory over the Canucks last Saturday night, hunting down Vancouver forwards on the forecheck with fiendish determination. In the tradition of an old-style power forward, he threw his body around causing havoc and forcing turnovers — one of which set up the go-ahead goal early in the third period. Still, power forwards are dinosaurs in the NHL now and most teams prefer faster, skilled players on their fourth line.
Lucic Poor Play Not All His Fault
Not all of the problems Lucic is struggling with can be laid at his feet. For some time now he has toiled on the fourth line with fellow grinders Trevor Lewis and Brett Ritchie. Between them, the three have only managed to rack up four goals and one assist in April.
To be fair, nobody should expect a fourth line to be a points-producing machine. Even so, questionable secondary scoring has been an issue with Calgary all season. It will need to show up next week as Calgary’s playoff opponents go to work shutting down the top line of Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk and Elias Lindholm.
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It may be too late now for Sutter to make line adjustments, but there’s no denying that in every sense of the word, Lucic anchors an already slow and lumbering fourth line. It may benefit by injecting some speed into it. Many pundits argue that Lucic would be more effective playing with the likes of Andrew Mangiapane or Dillon Dube. For that matter, those two could benefit from the Lucic style of play, which at its best can create turnovers and panic in the offensive zone that they can convert to goals.
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It’s been difficult to test this theory with the Flames’ Stockton farm team’s playoff aspirations limiting the number of younger and more offensively focused players that the Flames could have cycled through the fourth line. Even so, if the fourth line continues to be ineffective, Sutter may need to run the risk of experimenting with his lines in the playoffs.
Bottom Line: Lucic Needs to Get Going
Lucic fans insist that once the playoffs start, their hero will show up and become the proverbial “X-Factor” their team needs for a long playoff run. To do that he’ll need to rediscover how to put the puck in the back of the net. Not only that, but he’ll need to clean up his defensive play. Sloppy turnovers, no-look passes and clumsy clearing attempts are about to become much costlier as the playoffs begin next week.