Ever since former Boston Bruins great Cam Neely joined the front office in 2007, he has tried to construct a team that reflects the way he played the game — skilled and tough. Neely could drop a hat-trick just as easily as he could drop his gloves.
In their preseason tilt with the Florida Panthers on Saturday night, the Bruins showed they’re going to throw their weight around in 2010-11 by racking up 18 penalty minutes in a 3-2 shootout loss.
The top line Saturday looked more like a corps of linebackers than a scoring line with Milan Lucic (6-foot-4, 220 lbs) and Nathan Horton (6-foot-2, 229 lbs) on the wings and David Krejci (6-feet, 177 lbs) at center.
Boston engaged in two fights — both in the first period — and won them both. Six minutes in, Mark Stuart squared off with Florida winger Kendall McArdle. McArdle danced around the Bruins zone as if he wanted nothing to do with Stuart before losing a quick fight.
Ten minutes later, Panthers forward Triston Grant took a hack at Boston’s first round pick Tyler Seguin off a neutral zone faceoff, and Lucic promptly stepped in to defend his teammate. Lucic landed several blows and came away with a decisive win.
“Being physical and being a physical presence, it’s a part of my game,” Lucic said. “It’s good to get one [fight] out of the way and get the feeling of it.”
“He went out there and did what he had to do tonight,” head coach Clause Julien said. “It’s part of what we like to see from Lucic — being physical, and at the same time, every once in a while he drops the gloves and he puts fear in other team’s players.”
Lucic will try to re-establish his aggressiveness on the forecheck this season after missing significant time with ankle and finger injuries last year.
“I think the ankle’s behind me now,” Lucic said. “It’s not an issue.”
“[Lucic] is the ultimate hockey player,” Horton said. “He does everything. He scores, he hits, he fights. He’s an amazing hockey player.”
Horton tallied his second goal of the preseason at 11:51 in the second period when he took a pass from Krejci and dangled it in front of the net before ripping a wrister past Florida goalie Scott Clemmensen.
“[Krejci] is a special player,” Horton said. “He’s a great play-maker, he sees the ice real well. He’s definitely a smart hockey player. You give him the puck as much as you can.”
In addition to the toughness that Lucic and Horton bring, Boston may keep enforcer Brian McGrattan on a line with Shawn Thornton.
“He’s a very physical player,” Julien said before Saturday’s game. “He’s a very intimidating player. Obviously [he's] one of those enforcers that likes doing the job and sticks up for his teammates.”
Despite the combination of scoring and physical play the top line showed on Saturday, Julien stressed that the line may not play together in the regular season.
“Whether they play together or not,” Julien said, “I can’t answer that for you right now. I think we’ll see how the rest of cam goes, then we’ll put those lines together. If they are together, I think Horton and Lucic are both pretty physical wingers so the center is going to be a little bit spoiled there in the middle.”