Highlighted by his two goal performance in the impressive win over the Kings, Brad Richards has started the season well; which is a great sign for the Rangers. Having played a lackluster preseason – which came on the heels of his well documented (abysmal) 2012-13 season – Richards has begun to lay to rest the lingering concerns for this season.
He is skating well, looking to put the puck on net, and is getting separation from defenseman – something he did all too rarely last season. Perhaps most importantly is the lack of blind, drop passes on the blue line which were littered throughout his play last season.
While it’s only two games in to the new season – one of which was the sloppy Coyotes’ loss – the start laid down by Richard’s bodes well for the team. An in-form Richards would be hugely beneficial because, while Derek Stepan was much improved against the Kings (wasn’t everyone?), Stepan still has work to do to get back to his form of a year ago. If Richards can give the Rangers a strong year it’ll give the Rangers excellent depth down the middle.
We saw against the Kings how depth at center can have a huge impact. It shouldn’t go unnoticed how Brian Boyle won a big faceoff on the penalty kill before the comical Ryan McDonagh/Jon Quick goal that iced last night’s game for the Rangers. Sometimes it’s the small plays that make the big difference.
If the Rangers can continue to get production and big plays from the centers not named Derek Stepan, it should open up more opportunities for the likes of Rick Nash to excel. An old cliché but there is certainly truth in that if a team can control centre ice they always stand a chance to win.
Back to Richards. While his second goal against the Kings was fortunate – banked off a trailing defenseman and past Quick – his first goal offered a glimpse of what Richards can provide when on his game. Positioned to the left of Quick, Richards found the puck and showed excellent reactions to control the puck with his skate and put it on his stick before finishing from a tight angle. The reaction and finish suggested Richards’s game is already sharper than it was last year. All this came on the back of a solid season opening performance against the Coyotes where Richards was one of few Rangers who distinguished themselves at all.
It could be a flash in the pan and certainly, the road trip out west could make or break several players’ seasons before they start for real, but at this stage Brad Richards start is encouraging. This is all we could ask for one week into October. Maybe Alain Vigneault can breathe new life into a player most Rangers fans had already emotionally discarded.