We are nearing the end of the first quarter of the 2011-12 hockey season, and granted the Rangers still have to face the Montreal Canadiens, Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins in the coming weeks before the quarter closes, but I think it's safe to say that, so far, this season has been a success for the Blueshirts after their turnaround. A large part of that success has been the play of center Brad Richards, who was signed to a nine-year, $60 million contract over the summer. At least to this point, he's been worth every penny of that money.
Richards, like the team, got off to a bit of a slow start. After scoring a clutch tying goal in Europe, he suddenly became quiet, which is something he acknowledged and said he needed to improve. The Marian Gaborik experiment didn't last very long, and we quickly saw Richie getting bounced around in the lineup to see who he fits best with.
It just so happens that Richards played his best when centering a second line containing Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan on the wings. That's where he's spent a majority of the winning streak, and in eight games with them, he has recorded eight total points. In other words, he's become a point-per-game player when skating with Dubinsky and Callahan.
A lot of the credit goes to head coach John Tortorella for this one, as his reasoning for moving Richards to the second line with those guys was that sometimes "grinding it out" will bring out the best in Brad and help him find his game. Well I guess the coach wasn't kidding when he said he and Brad know each other extremely well, because the outcome of this move couldn't have been more perfect. Tip of the hat to ol' Torts.
Going into the year we all knew about Richards' passing and his playmaking capabilities. We've seen him excel on this team while using those tools on the ice, but one thing I was unaware of when the Rangers signed Richards was his lethal shot. This guy really knows how to shoot the hockey puck, and you saw what I mean on his game-winning shot on Long Island a few nights ago. His shooting is just as accurate as his passing, and that's made him an even more dangerous weapon for this hockey club.
In the early going, though, Richards was not shooting the puck as often as he should, and it is my belief that was a result of playing with Marian Gaborik. Richie felt obligated to dish it off, but the coaching staff put a quick halt on that. Now, on the second line, Richards has been averaging three to four shots on goal per game as of late, as opposed to just one or two. And clearly that's made a difference in his production.
It took time, but Richards is finally playing $60 million hockey and meeting the expectations of the fan base to this point. He is currently second in scoring on the team behind Marian Gaborik, having registered 6 goals and 7 assists for 13 points in sixteen games played. Without Richards, this winning streak wouldn't be as smooth moving as it's been, and let's hope that is something that continues into the next few weeks when the competition is amped up a notch.