EL SEGUNDO, CA — Heading into action on November 18, 2011, the Los Angeles Kings find themselves on top of the Pacific Division, and in third place in the Western Conference.
Although things are not all coming up roses for the Kings, who continue to struggle offensively in five-on-five situations, and have dropped to 17th in the National Hockey League on the penalty-kill, they have won four out of their last five games, and have earned points in five out of their last seven.
A big reason for their recent upswing has been the play of center Mike Richards, who was acquired on June 23, 2011, in the biggest trade in the NHL this past summer, one that sent forwards Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds, along with a second round pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, to the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange.
As the old saying goes, you have to give up something to get something, and so far, it looks like Richards has made the blockbuster trade look like a great one for the Kings, as he is doing exactly what the Kings have said he would do, as he is scoring goals and making plays, and has had a big impact on the power play.
Richards has been heating up lately, having scored five goals in his last five games. For the season, he has scored seven goals and has contributed eight assists for 15 points in 19 games.
“He’s been in the league for a long time, and he definitely knows his way [around],” said center Anze Kopitar. “For us, it’s the scoring we needed. With myself, him and [Jarret] Stoll [as the first, second and third line centers, respectively], that’s some really good strength down the middle. He’s helped us a lot.”
Although the Kings have added a new twist to their power play by having players without the puck move around the zone to force the penalty-killers to move, creating openings for scoring chances, having a player with Richards’ adept playmaking skills, along with his ability to think the game, has as much to do with their success with the man advantage—the Kings are ranked fifth in the league on the power play, with a 20.2 percent rating.
“We feel comfortable with each other on the ice,” Kopitar noted. “We’re making plays, and [right wing Dustin] Brown is a big piece of that in front of the net. We’re just trying to have a little more movement than we did last year. So far, it seems to be working pretty well.”
Richards downplayed his role in the dramatic improvement in Kings power play compared to last season.
“Once you get more time with each other, like with Kopitar, [defenseman Drew] Doughty, [defenseman Jack] Johnson—I think Brown is comfortable at the net,” said Richards. “He’s a big guy, and [draws] a lot of attention. I think when you don’t have a set play where Kopitar is on the half-wall, you can exchange [positions], and you can set up on different sides.”
“It’s more about throwing different looks at them so they can’t pre-scout us,” added Richards. “If you can throw different things at them—if you look at our goals on the power play, they’re not off of set plays, where it’s Kopitar on the half-wall, a guy is in front of the net, and there’s a shot. Instead, they’re coming off the weak side, they’re coming from different [looks]. It’s a lack of predictability. That’s the biggest thing.”
“For us, we look at video to see what the other team wants to do, and their tendencies. When you switch things up enough, it’s tough to pre-scout. When they show one look, we do a different look.”
But without Richards playing the opposite side from Kopitar, the Kings would not have that forward on the other side who is both a threat to score, as well as a skilled playmaker who can set up his teammates for a scoring chance. That added dimension is a key to their power play success as much as anything else.
Much of that success comes from Richards’ uncanny ability to think the game, and there have been murmurs among members of the local media that Richards may be the smartest player to don the Kings jersey since that guy who wore number 99 played in Los Angeles.
Indeed, most of the time, you hear coaches saying that they want their players to read and react, and not to think too much. But that does not seem to be the case with Richards, who is, arguably, the smartest player to play for the Kings since Wayne Gretzky played for them from 1988-96.
“[Richards is] very smart,” said Kopitar. “He’s very composed out there, and always makes good plays. He wasn’t the captain for nothing in Philadelphia. We’re all happy to have him here.”
“You’re always thinking,” Richards stressed. “You’re trying to think the game as much as possible, and make their penalty-killers hesitate a little bit because they’re thinking about what we’re going to do.”
But Richards’ ability to think the game is not limited to the power play.
“[Richards has a] very high IQ on the ice, and you see that especially in penalty-killing situations where he anticipates and reads [the opponent’s] stick, he reads eyes, he reads [the] body,” head coach Terry Murray noted. “He anticipates and gets the big play, the turnover. A lot of times, he’ll take advantage and make something happen at the other end.”
As well as Richards has played, Murray, who was already familiar with Richards, having worked in the Flyers organization prior to coming to Los Angeles, is not at all surprised. Indeed, when asked if, perhaps, Richards has given him more than he expected, Murray replied, “more than I expected? No. I expect that.”
“He’s a very good player, and I do have high expectations,” said Murray. “He’s a better player than what he’s shown here, in my opinion. I’ve seen it. I know he is. That comes out later on, maybe. All of these games are critical games, important games, mind you, but as you get to post-All-Star break, when the games are very meaningful, that’s when a player like that brings it to the next level.”
“He’s a special kind of a player,” added Murray. “Is he blessed with the most skill in the league? No. Is he the fastest guy in the league? No. But what he brings is an innate skill that good players have. The ability to compete, to get to that zone where you’re in the game and everything is in tune. The timing is right. Good things happen when you’re able to arrive there, and he’s one of those guys who gets to that level.”
Like most players, Richards was modest, and downplayed the praise, pointing out that he is just making the simple plays.
“You just try to simplify the game as much as possible, for me, anyway, he said. “When I start making plays where I’m not sure, or gamble plays, that’s when things are going to go wrong, because I’m usually on the ice against the top lines, and you give them opportunities to go the other way.”
“When you work so hard to get the puck, why give it back to them?”
Is that mere common sense, or are those words of wisdom from a smart player?
Something to think about, anyway…
Traffic And Parking Advisory For November 19, 2011 Game vs. Detroit Red Wings
On Saturday, November 19, 2011, when the Kings host Detroit (1:00 PM PST, Staples Center), those attending should be advised that the LA Auto Show is being held at the Los Angeles Convention Center, next to Staples Center.
In past years, when Kings games have coincided with the LA Auto Show, the result was heavier traffic, crowded parking lots, and much higher parking rates. Kings fans should expect more of the same this time around.
As an alternative, Frozen Royalty strongly recommends using public transportation to travel to/from Staples Center. Several Metro bus lines, along with the Metro Blue Line, serve Staples Center. The Metro Red/Purple Lines also stop at 7th Street and Figueroa Street, just a few blocks north of Staples Center—an easy walk. Connections to Metro Rail lines can also be made from Metrolink, which operates trains from all over Southern California.
Other municipal bus lines, including Santa Monica’s Big Blue Bus, Culver City Bus, Foothill Transit, Torrance Transit, and a slew of others, also connect to Metro bus and rail lines that will get you to Staples Center.
Raw Audio Interviews from the Los Angeles Kings Practice On November 18, 2011
(Extraneous material and dead air have been removed)
Mike Richards (2:48)
Anze Kopitar (1:47)
Terry Murray (8:36)
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