DULUTH, Ga. - The observation, made by everyone from Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli to Vancouver Giants coach Don Hay, is that Milan Lucic seems to improve at every stage of his career.
Yesterday, after an afternoon session at the Duluth Ice Forum, the Thrashers' practice facility, Bruins coach Claude Julien said the same thing.
"I thought he played pretty well in Toronto [Saturday]," said Julien. "I liked his game in Toronto, and I liked his game even more [Monday]."
Against the Maple Leafs, Lucic made his first appearance as the third-line left wing, skating alongside Phil Kessel and Peter Schaefer. In the first period, Lucic created space in front of the net, took a pass from Schaefer, and winged a close-range shot that thudded off Toronto goalie Vesa Toskala. Lucic skated 13 shifts for 11:15 of ice time in the 2-1 win.
Lucic was even better against Buffalo. He skated a career-high 15:35 over 19 shifts in a 4-1 victory. Lucic recorded two assists, snapped off a team-high four shots, threw three hits, and blocked one shot.
It was the first time he recorded a point since Oct. 12, when he had a goal and an assist against Los Angeles.
"He created some things," Julien said. "His skating was pretty good. He had forecheck pressure, was making the right play, was well-positioned most of the time, was in the offensive zone as the third man high. He had a couple chances in the slot area there.
The Bruins have proceeded slowly with Lucic, using him on the fourth line until now and keeping him out for four games - they considered sending him to Providence for the two-week conditioning loan allowed junior-eligible players - after he suffered a concussion Nov. 23.
"We certainly don't throw them to the wolves," Julien said of his younger players. "We give them an opportunity to get accustomed to speed and team play.
"When you see that they're doing well, you try and give them a little more. If they can handle it, they keep progressing. I think that's part of developing young players.
"If you give them too much to swallow at once, they end up having to take a step back. And that's sometimes more harmful than people think."
Wideman rewindsDennis Wideman, who assisted on P.J. Axelsson's winning goal against Buffalo, will bring a seven-game scoring streak into tonight's match at Philips Arena. Wideman has two goals and five assists during the streak.
Before Monday's win, Julien had a one-on-one session on the ice with Wideman. Julien told Wideman, who prefers a big windup on his slap shot, that pulling his stick all the way back isn't necessarily a good thing.
Julien brought up two examples from Saturday's game. When Wideman used his regular windup, it gave Toronto captain Mats Sundin enough time to get his stick in front of the shot and deflect it. In the second period, Wideman used a partial windup and scored the winner.
"There are times that Wides has a big windup and his stick is pointed at the ceiling," said Julien. "That's an extra second taken away from his shot. I don't think it takes away from the strength of your shot. It just takes time away from getting your shot off. So, just trying to break some habits."