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Milan Lucic says he’s more interested in the main event points race in the first Edmonton-Calgary meeting which comes halfway through the season, than the individual undercard: the goal battle with James Neal
But, they’re both good stories.
“I’m excited to be coming back to Edmonton but more so I’m looking at what the game means in the standings,” said Lucic, who spent three years in Edmonton and was traded this past summer to the Flames for Neal, two players spinning their wheels. “It’s a rivalry game but it’s also a competitive game.”
Arizona and Vegas are tied for top in the Pacific with 46 points. Calgary and Edmonton have 44. Vancouver has 42. It’s the 41st game for the Oilers on Friday night, the 40th for the Flames.
“As you know when I was in Boston and played Montreal, those games were also very competitive games and we played each other four times and that ramped up the rivalry,” said Lucic.
“This division is tight … if you lose two games, you’re almost out of a playoff spot, and if you win two or three, you’re back in the mix. Vegas, Arizona, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver, all five of us are battling for maybe four (playoff spots).”
Lucic says having Calgary and Edmonton playing first at the halfway point is strange stuff. The Oilers are finished with Vancouver, playing four times, but haven’t seen their main rival.
“It is kind of odd but when I played in LA we didn’t play Anaheim for the first time until January,” said Lucic. “With the Oilers I think we play four times in the next six weeks, though. We’re going to get to know each other well.”
The dichotomy between Lucic and Neal is hard to ignore. Neal has 16 goals, in the first month he was the NHL’s hottest player. Lucic has three goals in 50 shots and eight points this year, but nobody’s complaining because he’s keeping the flies away from Johnny Gaudreau. He skates hard, provides fuel to the fire and he’s a fan favourite in Calgary.
If Neal scores at least 21 goals and the difference between the two at least 10 goals, the Oilers give Calgary a third-round draft pick. But that’s for the rival GM’s to consider.
“I’ve maybe only watched five Oiler games this year, but you always pay attention to the guy you’re traded for. I won’t lie to you there,” said Lucic. “At the start it was like ‘Holy Smokes, he’s really doing well and nothing much is going for me’ but I’ve moved on from that.
“I’m not the type of guy who wishes bad on others. If the other guy is playing well and you’re not, you create negative energy and you drive yourself crazy. You turn it into a pity party for yourself. It’s not a healthy way to live. I’ve never been like that. If somebody’s doing well whether you like or hate the guy or got traded for him, I believe in the ‘he’s doing well, good for him.’ Just go about your own business.”
Lucic seems to have found a regular line with Derek Ryan and Dillon Dube. They’ve been together for 10 to 12 games.
“If you look at goals and assists you can say it’s not going well, but I’m playing better, more to the way I can play, in the O-zone, creating scoring chances, providing energy. The way the last 15 games have gone, I could easily be at the 10-goal mark but it hasn’t gone in for me,” he said.
Lucic had 23 goals in 175 shots (13.1 shooting percentage) his first Oilers season after they signed him as a free-agent in 2016, but couldn’t find the net the next two with 10 and six goals when his shooting percentage was 6.8 and 8.1.
Even with his troubles, the fans refused to get on him.
“The Edmonton fans were good to me from start to finish and I appreciated that. Even when times were tough they never turned on me, they never booed me, which I was appreciative of,” he said.
Lucic hasn’t had a lot of angry games in the Battle of Alberta. There was the Lucic scuffle around the crease with then Flames goalie Mike Smith in Calgary.
“The first time we played them last season they (Flames) were going after Connor (McDavid) and I had a big hit on Gio (Flames captain Mark Giordano), too. That was a pretty ramped up game,” said Lucic. “That’s why I’m excited about this one (Tuesday). We know what this game means in the standings.”
It will be strange for Lucic to be going against McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
“The first time I did it was my year in LA and it was Connor’s first season and Leon’s second. Seeing how good they were was a big reason why I decided to come to Edmonton. I saw how good Connor was as an 18-year-old,” he said. “I’m very interested to see how good they’ve gotten because when you play with guys you appreciate how good they are but when you play against them you see how hard it it.”