Photo: Kevin Hoffman, USA TODAY Sports
Brad Richards has been a bit of a disappointment this year. He hasn’t been consistent, and he hasn’t been that top line center and powerplay quarterback that the Rangers thought they were getting. That said, Richards has been getting hot at the right time, and his hat trick last night could be just the beginning of a strong run for the veteran center.
In ten games this April, Richards has been scoring at a point per game pace, with five goals and five assists. The points have come in bunches (eight were in three games, five in the past two games), but there’s more to this than the scoring. Richards is finally starting to do the little things, and his luck is beginning to change as he is starting to get those bounces he wasn’t getting earlier this season.
Last night’s hat trick is the perfect example of how Richards is doing the right thing and getting rewarded. On his first goal, the little thing that Richards did was throw the puck to the net. It was something he hadn’t done that much this season, as he was pressing too hard and trying to make a play. Sometimes the right play is get the puck to the net. He did on this goal, and it wound up going in the net. Little thing number one: Get the puck to the net.
On his second goal, he and Mats Zuccarello made great individual plays to keep the puck in the Sabres’ zone. Then he found some open ice behind Jhonas Enroth and attached a loose puck behind the netminder. Little things numbers two, three, and four: Keep the zone, find open ice, charge the net.
His third goal was a bit lucky, but it goes back to little thing number one: Get the puck to the net. You never know what is going to happen when you do.
Those three goals, and the ten points in ten games, has put Richards on pace for a 56-point season in a full year. That’s not what you’d expect from him, but it’s also a lot better than his previous pace. His three goals also put him on pace for a 20-goal season over 82 games.
If there’s one person the Rangers need to get hot heading into the playoff run, it’s Brad Richards. If he can get going, then the Rangers, with the way their current lineup is structured, have a very balanced top-nine that can provide scoring, grit, and defense. Without Richards, then the Rangers have maybe two lines that can produce.
Whether you love Richards or hate him, he’s an integral part of this club’s success for at least this season and next. If he gets hot, then the Rangers are a dangerous opponent in the playoffs.