Originally posted on The Rangers Tribune  |  Last updated 1/24/12

Aside from Brad Richards himself, there is no one who knows the talented centerman better than head coach John Tortorella. They obviously go back to 2004, when they won a Stanley Cup in a player-coach relationship that existed as members of the Tampa Bay Lightning organization. This played a large part in Richards agreeing to less money in order to come play in New York this past summer, where he would be reunited with the coach that best knows how to get him going. 

Right now Richie is in need of someone to get him going, as he was in the midst of a six-game scoring drought prior to picking up an assist on Marian Gaborik's overtime game-winner against the Boston Bruins on Saturday. And even still, Richards hasn't recorded a goal in seven games and has struggled to complete basic plays offensively as of late. 

When talking to Andrew Gross of Ranger Rants yesterday, though, Tortorella seemed to have a diagnosis for Richards' problems having been around him for so long, and as expected, it all comes down to mind games. 

“He’s such a student of the game," Tortorella said. "He cares about it and what he’s trying to do for the hockey club. It screws him up. He assesses his game. He’s still learning our concept as far as how we do things defensively. But if he isn’t helping a hockey club or if he feels it isn’t, it buries him because it’s constantly on his mind because he wants to be that guy to make the team go.” 

Richards skated on the third line with Ruslan Fedotenko and Brandon Prust on Saturday in Boston, and will do the same tonight when the Blueshirts host the Winnipeg Jets at Madison Square Garden. In this position, Richards is the leader of the line, rather than someone who is trying to get the leader the puck, so it forces him to do less thinking and make simpler plays to the net. Essentially, Tortorella is trying to bring Brad back to basics so that he can heat up again. 

Also, these linemates will force Richards to get his hands a little dirty and grind more often than he normally does, which will only help his game as well. It's a hard-working line, so it's most definitely going to force him to break a sweat out there and bring upon some consistency in his strategies. 

“They chase down pucks,” Tortorella said. “Feds’ game is coming here as far as on the body and winning battles. Pruster’s game has grown. I thought Richie just had the puck more, too. He didn’t think about passing. He had a couple of plays in the slot, the release was there. He just got the puck on net, he had some good scoring chances there. Richie just can’t think, he’s just got to play, just be creative and allow himself to play. Little by little his game is becoming more consistent offensively.”

I don't think that it is a coincidence the Rangers have been a bit streaky as of late while both Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards have hit a small stalemate. They are the most important offensive players on this team next to Ryan Callahan, and to have both of them struggling at the same time makes it very difficult for this team to produce consistent offense. Granted Gabby has come along in his last game or two, but it is now up to Richards to do the same. 

Following the All-Star break, it is officially crunch time in the National Hockey League, which also means it's the time the Rangers are going to need players like Richards to produce most. 

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