Friday, October 16, 2009

Game day @ Dallas 10/16

The Bruins finally play their first road game of the season tonight in Dallas. Is this the perfect confluence of events for the struggling Black & Gold? I think we can all agree that perhaps getting out of town for a few days is a good thing for the team. They get to get away from the pressure and high expectations of the locals for a bit. The road sometimes has a way of simplifying team's games and curing some of the ills that plague them on home ice. I certainly think time away from the Garden could be a boon to their morale.
And let's not forget, it was just last November 1st that the '08-'09 B's were sort of limping along through a fairly ordinary season. Then Dallas, and the likes of Steve Ott (forever to remembered as "Brave Steve" thanks to a famous Jack Edwards rant) and Sean Avery came to town. That pair teamed up to sound the wake up bell that launched the Bruins on their impressive regular season run. But alas, Avery is now plying his trade in new York. Ott is out of the lineup with an oblique injury. Shane Hnidy, forever in Matt Niskanen's nightmares, is now lost in the wilderness of Minnesota. So where does that leave us? Who, if anyone, provides the spark to get the B's out of their early funk? Ah, I thought you'd never ask.....

Before I go on, I feel the need to explain (yet again) how big of a fan of this guy I have been for a LONG time. I started hoping and praying he would one day be a Bruin by the time he was 15 or 16 years old. Nobody wants to see this kid succeed more than me. But thus far this season I have been supremely disappointed. Yes folks, this is Milan Lucic I'm talking about.
The good news is, I still believe that Milan cares enough to do what it takes to right his ship, which will go a long way towards fixing much of what is wrong with the Bruins thus far. Lucic needs to play with emotion, effort and sheer force of will to be a productive NHL player. Thus far, he has shown none of that, barring one lopsided beat down of Jay Harrison of the Hurricanes (which just happens to be the only game in which the Bruins looked even slightly interested in playing hockey....coincidence?). The performance Lucic put on in the last game was simply embarrassing. He was invisible on the ice, except for glaringly failing to even provide a token back-check on Colorado's second goal. He has zero goals and three assists. Which honestly, I can live with at this point of the season. The stat that is unacceptable to me is shots. Playing on the top line with one of the best set-up men in the league in Marc Savard, Lucic has managed to land a whopping four shots on net. For comparison, fourth line winger Shawn Thornton has cranked off eleven shots on net. Thornton, by the way, plays roughly six fewer minutes per game than Lucic. And has Steve Begin as his Center, not Savard (even Begin has 8 shots, doubling Lucic's output. I know, I know...shots on goal don't tell the whole story. I get it. But sometimes it is in fact a very good indicator of one thing. Effort. Thornton and begin get shots because they WORK for them. They go to the net hard. They pay a price. Thus far Lucic, he of the 6'4, 220lb frame has been content to exist on the margins. Playing an outside, away from the net game ill suited to his skill set. Our big, bad "Loochamotive" as Kevin Paul Dupont likes to call him has so far existed strictly on the spur line, yet to find his way to the main track to the ultimate destination.

I'm sure his many protectors on the internet will respond by pointing out that he leads the team in hits. Fair enough. Through five games he does lead with 14 hits (Begin is second with 11). But lets be honest. How many of those do you remember? I don't expect him to run people through the glass every night. What I do expect though, are the type of hits that separate a defenseman from the puck (if not his wits) once in awhile. And while we're on the honesty kick here, keep in mind he's so far been the beneficiary of home cooking. Hits are such an arbitrary stat, that they are almost meaningless. Especially when you consider the home player nearly always gets the benefit of the doubt. Any body contact at all, is called a "hit" for the home team, and never mentioned for the visitor.

But, it isn't all doom and gloom on the Lucic front (I refuse to call him "Looch" until he starts playing like "Looch" again). As much as I disapproved of his antics at the final whistle Saturday, at least he showed SOME emotion. Maybe, just maybe, he's decided he's had enough of this kinder gentler version of himself. Maybe the luster of that shiny new multi-million dollar deal has worn off. I think it has, and I expect to see the old Lucic we all knew and loved return with a vengeance. If that happens, trust me, the rest of the team will respond in kind. He may still be a kid, but he is a natural leader. His actions invariably promote a response. If he's going hard, so does the team. If he takes the night off, well, the boys play along. Thornton can't be the only guy to constantly try motivating the team with big hit or a fight (after a few of those "let's get going" bouts, it comes off as fake, and loses it's rallying cry effectiveness).

So what do I expect of the weekend? First and foremost, Lucic is back. Beyond that, I think we'll see the rest of the team playing a much better brand of hockey. Julien has had a few days to get some solid teaching done, and he's shown in the past that he uses that time very well. He broke out the whip early on, but has since backed off a bit opting to teach, not punish. He is the master at mixing those two styles.

Boston wins tonight, 4-1. Although Dallas is fresh off a 6-0 stomping of Nashville, they aren't a dominant team. Lucic, Chara, Ryder and Begin score.

With the agitator Ott on the shelf, there is no natural "enemy" for the Bruins to target. But Kris Barch (who last year had to try to clean up Ott's mess) is still around, and is the most likely candidate to drop the gloves. Look for he and Thornton to renew acquaintances as some point.
But as hard as I expect Lucic to go tonight, the thought of him picking up a fighting major isn't out of the question. But who could his partner be? In an absolute REACH, I'm calling for the big defenseman Mark Fistric to pick up his first fighting major in the NHL. At 6'3, 228lbs he has the size. Not sure it ends well for Mr. Fistric, but hey...if you have "FIST" in your name and your that big, eventually you HAVE to fight don't you?

So there you have it. Sorry for the Lucic rant. Trust me, it pains me to write it. And I know he isn't the whole story when it comes to the B's shaky start. But he just may be the whole story in turning things around....or at least a very good starting point.
Go B's-Kynch

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