Although the 2015-16 season is just nine games old for the Los Angeles Kings, it has already been quite a roller coaster. For Milan Lucic, the Kings’ newest forward, it has been much of the same.
The Kings jumped out to a 0-3-0 record to start the 2015-16 season, a disappointing beginning to a season where most think the Kings will rebound and qualify for the playoffs after missing last season’s. In the season’s first three games, the Kings couldn’t score goals, looked out-of-place and were losing in convicting fashion.
However, since the Kings’ lackluster start they have gone 6-0-0, have outscored their opponents 18-6 and have climbed out of the basement and to the top of the Pacific Division.
Lucic in many ways has mirrored the Kings’ wild ride.
While the Kings were struggling to find offense, Lucic was as well. During the Kings’ three game losing streak to start the season, Lucic recorded zero points, a minus-3 rating and only got two shots on net. During the Kings’ six game winning streak, Lucic has lit the lamp twice, grabbed six points, is a plus-7 and has tested opposing goalies with eight shots.
Although it’s not far off to say Lucic has found his stride and is contributing to the Kings’ winning ways, his changing spots in the Kings line up is likely the cause for his new-found production.
Lucic started the season on the Kings’ top line with Anze Kopitar and Marian Gaborik. Coming into the season most, including myself, saw this as the perfect situation. Lucic, a big bruising power forward, would be the perfect combination for the play making and offensive prowess that Kopitar and Gaborik have. That experiment failed quickly.
Lucic, Kopitar and Gaborik skated together through out training camp, where chemistry and cohesion is usually built and established with new line combinations. Which is something head coach , Darryl Sutter was looking for, via Gann Matsuda of Frozen Royalty,
“You’re looking for it to be really clicking and working,” he noted. “You see it in practice—you see the signs where it’s really sharp, and then you see it in games where it hasn’t been quite [as sharp]. They really haven’t played together. That’s the problem.”
But the chemistry never came and the trio never seemed to click on the ice. For the first two games of the season, the line looked out of sync, didn’t generate much offense and was ultimately held without a point.
After the Kopitar and Gaborik experiment failed, Lucic jumped onto a line with Jeff Carter and Tyler Toffoli. The three have been paired up ever since. The three have combined for 11 goals and 21 points in the last six games.
If you look at Lucic and where his success comes, it comes from his driving the net. This style of play seems to better fit Carter and Toffoli, who play a similar style of hockey where they rush down the ice and take a shot. A sort of run and gun approach to the game.
Take the goal below for example, Toffoli and Lucic get off to a fast break after Carter wins the face off, Toffoli enters the offensive zone with the puck and feeds Lucic who is driving the net and deflects the puck in.
Lucic 101, go to the net, take a defenseman with you and make things happen.
Now this is not saying the style of hockey that Kopitar and Gaborik play is not right, it’s just not right for Lucic. When Kopitar and Gaborik are on the ice it is a lot of back and forth, side to side, a lot of behind the net and sideboard action which is something that doesn’t compliment Lucic. Lucic likes to get the middle and create chaos, a style of play that is magnified when you have players like Carter and Toffoli who think shoot first.
Carter, Toffoli and Lucic’s production will likely slow down, much like every line. This isn’t saying this trio will be skating together for the rest of the season, but it is probably safe to say that Lucic has found his line for the foreseeable future.