Milan Lucic seeks to give Kings a fighting chance to regain their form
There are two ways to look at fighting in a relatively meaningless preseason game.
Ill-advised? Or ingenious?
Kings defenseman Drew Doughty came up with a third way to capture Milan Lucic’s way of inserting himself into the rivalry with their Southern California neighbor, the Ducks.
“That was cool,” Doughty said. “I told him after the game, I didn’t expect to see a fight [from him] until the regular season started.”
Lucic engaged in a spirited and marathon scrap with young defenseman Josh Manson when the Kings and Ducks played at Staples Center on Sept. 29.
The Kings’ new left wing emerged with a cut under his right eye but managed to set events in motion, trying to show he didn’t leave his ability to stand up for teammates with his old team in Boston.
Clearly, the acquisition of Lucic — for two players and a draft pick — was the Kings’ signature move of the off-season. While the core pieces of their two Stanley Cup championship teams remain, the Kings are a team in transition. They open the regular season Wednesday night at Staples Center against a familiar foil, the San Jose Sharks.
Lucic in not only a prototypical heart-and-soul power forward, he also comes with an impressive resume, having won the Stanley Cup with the Boston Bruins in 2011.
“You want to continue to prove yourself to your teammates, to the rest of the league. You’re not afraid to stand up for yourself and you’re going to keep playing on that edge,” Lucic said.
“I think it’s real important, especially for my game. Those are some of the things I think that can bring a team closer together when guys are showing they’re willing to stick up for themselves and more importantly stick up for each other. When you’re in the room and you know the guy next to you has your back, it makes a lot more fun and everything flows a lot easier when you go to play the game.”
In fact, Lucic thought he was probably a bit overdue when he tangled with Manson.
“It was more so to get the emotional part of the game going,” he said. “My game is built so much on emotion. I think the last fight I had was in January. It’s been a while since I’ve gotten in a fight. It was nice to get one in.”
Like many of the Kings, who missed the playoffs last season, Lucic is trying to regain his form. His career-high numbers (30 goals, 62 points) came in 2010-11. He recorded 59 points two seasons ago and dropped to 18 goals and 44 points last season. He will be an unrestricted free agent July 1.
The same goes for Lucic’s new linemate, center Anze Kopitar. Despite dialogue, nothing appears imminent on the contract front regarding Kopitar and the Kings. It is understood there is no real timeline with the talks.
Kopitar has been facing questions about it even before training camp started and it will only intensify as the season moves along, especially when the Kings make their first trip to Canada.
Would it be easier for Kopitar to put a halt to negotiations during the season?
“Yes and no,” he said Tuesday. “We’ll see what happens.…That’s still a long ways away. My mind is in hockey right now. Would it be perfect, or ideal, to get it done now and not have to think about it? Yes. But if it’s not, it’s just not.
“I’ve got to start here tomorrow and just play the way I can. It doesn’t matter if it’s the last year [of the contact] or not.”
Meanwhile, Kopitar and right wing Marian Gaborik are still trying to find chemistry with their new winger. Lucic is looking for a comfort level and fitting into the new system after having spent all of his career in Boston.
“That just comes with the fresh start,” he said. “You’re so used to being in a routine, especially when it’s the same for eight years. It’s taken a little bit longer than I thought, to get adjusted, get used to how things work around here.
“I’m used to playing with two righties so that’s a challenge [with two lefties]. As much as from the outside, it wouldn’t seem much of one. But it is. That’s something that comes with time.”
Kings Coach Darryl Sutter has spotted fleeting moments of chemistry.
“You see signs where it’s really sharp and then you see in games where it hasn’t been quite as sharp,” Sutter said.
Lucic’s power and size gives the line a special element. Doughty called him “a big dude.”
“He fits into our style of system,” Kopitar said. “To play physical, he likes to hold on to the puck. Once he’s ... turned to you, it’s pretty hard to get around it to take the puck off him. That’s obviously a good thing.”
Earlier in training camp, Kopitar spoke about the impact of Lucic, who is listed at 6-foot-3, 233 pounds.
“We definitely know what he is all about in that regard and his physical presence,” he said. “I think everybody is going to tell you that you like playing with him as opposed to playing against.”
Gaborik whimsically described the prospect of a Lucic hit.
“You don’t want to be in that position — to have a train going at you,” he said.
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