The 2014-15 chapter in the history of the Boston Bruins has been one to forget so far.
They find themselves fighting for their playoff lives with the resurgent Florida Panthers and Philadelphia Flyers approaching the end of February. A team that many expected would contend for another Atlantic Division title has been relegated to a wild card spot that is anything but a lock with under two months left in the season. It has been a fall from grace after capturing the Presidents Trophy ten short months ago.
Boston’s struggles this season have exposed underlying issues with the club that have long been ignored. At or near the top of the list is the consistently inconsistent play of Milan Lucic. The 26-year-old has a respectable 11 goals and 31 points from 56 games this season, but is still far below the expectations of a player who carries a $6 million cap number. Playing primarily alongside center David Krejci, Lucic has been given the opportunity by coach Claude Julien to live up to his potential as an elite power forward. It worked out well during Boston’s Stanley Cup season in 2010-11 when he scored 30 goals and 62 points while racking up 121 penalty minutes. Lucic posted similar numbers the following season, scoring 26 goals and 61 points with 135 PIM. It seemed at that point his comparisons to Bruins legend and Hockey Hall of Famer Cam Neely would prove to be prophetic.
Milan Lucic tonight: 15:07 ice time (1:54 on PP), zero points, zero shots on goal, zero shots even attempted. Thanks for coming, big guy.
— Jesse Connolly (@jtchockey) February 21, 2015
This season, Lucic’s inconsistency is starting to rear its ugly head. Following Friday night’s tilt against the St. Louis Blues in which he was hardly noticeable on the ice, the six-foot-three-inch winger is in the midst of a seven-game goal drought that has seen the Bruins win only once (1-4-2) in that span. It is common for players to go through dry spells on occasion, but Lucic has now endured five separate stretches of six or more games this season without scoring a goal, totaling 37 games. The Bruins have struggled in that span, going 14-17-6 in those contests. Lucic has scored 11 goals and 16 points in the 20 games not included in that sample. Consistency has been a hard thing to come by for him this season, but a more thorough examination of his statistics reveals a trend that has been lost in the fog for several years.
The origins of Lucic’s streaky scoring can be traced back to his career-year in 2010-11. He went 12 games without scoring a goal in late December and early January, recording just two assists. The Vancouver native was goalless in the final 10 games as well that season, but chipped in with seven helpers in that time. Boston wound up winning 13 of those 22 games. In the other 57 games he played, Lucic averaged close to a point-per-game. He had a legitimate shot of scoring 40 goals in 2010-11 were it not for those two droughts. Boston won the Stanley Cup that season, but the signs of inconsistency were there.
In 2011-12, the prolonged goal scoring struggles of Lucic began to take shape. He went through four separate periods of six or more games without scoring a goal; in total 27 games. Lucic recorded 11 assists and was a -6, yet the Bruins went 15-11-1 in those games. Conversely, he had two separate streaks of five or more games in which the former Vancouver Giant recorded a point. From October 29 to November 10, Lucic scored eight points (six goals) during a five-game point streak. From March 1, 2012 to March 11, he scored nine points (two goals, seven assists) during a seven-game stretch. In those 12 games, he averaged 1.42 points-per-game and scored 27.9% of his points for the entire season. Lucic showed a glimpse of his potential, but not enough consistency to fulfill it.
The lockout-shortened season of 2012-13 saw Lucic endure the longest goal-scoring drought of his career after winning the Stanley Cup. A six-game goal drought in late January gave way to a month-long stretch in which he did not record a goal for 15 games. After scoring a goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs on March 25, Lucic went the following nine games without a goal. Boston once again overcame the goal-scoring struggles of their number 17, going 19-9-2 in those 30 games. In the remaining 16 games that season, Lucic scored seven goals and four assists. The Bruins showed their depth and balance up front that season, eventually embarking on a run to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Lucic signed a three-year, $18 million contract extension prior to the 2013-14 season in the hopes he could take his game to the next level. Over the course of the season, Lucic went six or more games without a goal four times, totaling 32 games. Boston once again picked up the slack, going 21-10-1 in those games. He went on three separate point streaks of five games or more last season as well, totaling 16 games. Lucic scored 33.9% of his points in those games, tallying seven goals and 13 assists. He would go on to score a total of 24 goals and 59 points, helping Bruins capture the Presidents Trophy, only to be eliminated by the rival Montreal Canadiens in game seven of their second-round series.
The one common thread over the past four seasons is that when Lucic struggled to light the lamp, his teammates would be there to pick up the slack. That has not been the case this season. The focus has now shifted to why Lucic cannot find any consistency in his offensive game. Peter Chiarelli and the Bruins are paying him the salary of a consistent goal scorer. Six million dollars is a hefty chunk of change to give to a player that has spent the better part of the past four seasons battling inconsistency. Post-Stanley Cup, 16 times Lucic has gone six-plus games without a goal. The physical aspect of Lucic’s game appears to be slowly fading away as well. He does lead the team in hits, but is no longer the intimidating figure that opposing players feared. Just ask former Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Mike Van Ryn.
Lucic had 23 fighting majors during his first two seasons in the NHL. After winning the Cup in 2011 he has 22 fights in four seasons, including just three this year. When the team has been in need of a boost via a big hit or a fight, Lucic has been nowhere to be found. It appears the bulky forward is slowly fading out the part of his game that made him so revered in Boston.
Is it possible that Lucic believes he has to transform into a goal scorer to justify the salary of one? The pressure is rising on him to start justifying the contract, but the numbers suggests it may get worse before it gets better.
Joe is a writer covering the Boston Bruins. He is a lifelong native of Massachusetts and is currently a content writer/manager for a newsletter at a Human Services Agency. Joe can be found on Twitter: @JoeCherryTHW