Milan Lucic is back. Well, we’ll see if that statement is really accurate when the Calgary Flames veteran takes his first shift on Friday night.
But after sitting out a few games over the past week, the big-bodied winger is a good bet for a big bodycheck, some heavy corner work, and maybe even a scrap if the opportunity presents itself.
He spent a good five minutes answering questions about his first healthy scratch in almost a decade on Friday morning ahead of the Flames’ game against the St. Louis Blues before unleashing his first heavy hit of the day.
Lucic reminded members of the media how different the game looks from 80 feet above.
“What I learned was when you watch from up top it’s an easy game,” he said with a growing grin. “It moves a lot slower. For you guys who watch up top, you should watch it from ice level and see the difference.”
He’s not wrong. The game moves quickly at ice level. And after a pretty good start to the season, Lucic seemed to slow down. He had some bad luck with his only shot to beat a goalie this season getting called back and started to sink into the slumpy ways of wingers who aren’t getting points. He stopped doing the things that have always made him a productive player — whether he was scoring or not.
Being physical. Leading by example. Being responsible on the ice. And maybe his locker-room presence changed, too.
“Just gotta do what I do to help the team win,” he said about getting back in action for the first time since the Flames’ loss against Johnny Gaudreau in Columbus. “For me I think it’s a bigger thing of being a positive influence and a leader in the locker-room, and getting guys prepared to play the right way and enforcing what we need to do.
“Then, for myself personally, just going out there and playing loose and playing the way I can. Sometimes when you’re in a rut or whatever, when you try too hard, it works against you.”
Lucic says he’ll simplify.
Going back to basics likely means an energetic first shift. A board-rattling effort. Some offensive zone cycling and a net-front presence.
Those aren’t skills Lucic has picked up as a player in his later years. Even when he was ripping 20-plus goals a season, those are the fundamentals that made him a feared opponent.
He may not be scoring much now, but he can’t lose sight of what made him a legitimate NHL player without those offensive numbers.
“I felt like I had a good start to the year but even though my game isn’t about goals and assists, when you don’t provide anything as far as that goes, it starts to get in your head,” he said of a recent string of games that saw his icetime dwindle to five minutes or so over the last couple.
So did he see the scratch coming?
“You can say that. Just because of certain things. But coach’s make decisions on what they feel is going to give their team the best chance to win. When you’re not helping a team win you know eventually a change is going to come,” Lucic said. “I’ve had a now a week to think about it.”
This time, he’s used the break to reflect and look positively at his eventual return. Which sounds different than his previous scratches.
“Things weren’t going well for me. I was frustrated and slamming doors and breaking sticks. Things weren’t going well for me offensively,” he said. “It’s easy to get down and feel sorry for yourself and say ‘F this’ or ‘F that’ or that type of stuff.”
That’s not what he did this time. But the goal is to take the same approach in his return.
“The past times that I’ve been scratched, when I came back in, I made sure that it never happened again,” he said.
You get the feeling that intention is going to spread throughout the locker-room in anticipation.
“When you have a good start and you play with the lead, it energizes the group and energizes individuals. I think it’s just believing in each other and believing in yourself and just finding that belief again on a night-to-night basis so that when the puck drops, you’re ready to go,” Lucic said. “That’s one of my jobs, and that’s one of my most important jobs.”