If Tuesday’s practice is any indication, the Capitals will go with a different look on their checking line when they meet the Flyers in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series against the Philadelphia Flyers.
Mike Richards, who began his career as a Flyer, practiced on a third line with left wing Jason Chimera and right wing Marcus Johansson on Tuesday, leaving a fourth line of center Jay Beagle between Daniel Winnik and Tom Wilson.
“It gives us some flexibility, especially when we go into Philadelphia, to get away from some matchups, maybe,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said of his newly constructed checking line. “Maybe the top lines nullify each other and you’re depth has to get it done for you. If we’re going to be successful in any series you’re going to need production from all four of your lines.”
While Chimera matched his career high with 20 goals and Johansson netted 17 goals and fell one point shy of his career high of 47 points, Richards managed only two goals and three assists in 39 games this season, with a minus-2 rating.
However, he and Chimera have carved reputations as players who raise their level of play in the post-season. In his 11-year career Richards has played in more playoff games than anyone on the Capitals roster (124) and has averaged more points in the playoffs (0.70 per game) than he has in the regular season (0.65). Chimera averages 0.39 in the regular season and 0.47 in the playoffs.
“I’m excited to see him play in the playoffs,” Chimera said of Richards. “He’s one of those guys that gets it done. He always brings out the physicality. Guys like him and (Justin Williams) always seem like the bigger the game the bigger they play. It’s a different dynamic for sure.”
While Williams has earned the reputation as Mr. Game 7 (he has seven goals and seven assists and is a perfect 7-0 in career Game 7s), Richards is also 7-0 in career Game 7s and is the only player in NHL history who has played a role with two different teams that have come back from an 0-3 series deficit to win a series (2010 with the Flyers, 2014 with the Kings).
“There’s no doubt this is the most fun time of the year,” Richards said. “You could feel the energy in the dressing room this morning and even right now. It’s a special time and it’s the best part about playing hockey.”
Richards and Williams, each of whom began their NHL careers in Philadelphia, have combined to play in 239 playoff games. The entire Flyers roster has combined to play in 326 playoff games.
“He has the ability to slow things down when everything gets hectic,” Trotz said. “In the playoffs he’s been a player who finds a way to affect the game in a positive way. It’s the same with Justin Williams.”
Richards last experienced playoff hockey in Washington in 2008 when the Flyers won an intense and emotional series in overtime of Game 7 in Verizon Center. He said he has little recollection of that series but expects a real hornets’ nest when the Caps visit Philadelphia for Game 3 Monday night.
“You get chills every time with Lauren (Hart) singing God Bless America with Kate Smith,” he said. “I’d say it’s better than Chicago, but Chicago’s pretty cool, too. It’s a great place to play hockey, just with the atmosphere and how intense everybody is. It’s just a loud building. It’s fun.”
Richards said he was saddened by the news of Flyers owner Ed Snider passing on Monday, calling him a “great, great man.”
“You can’t help but be sad for the whole Snider family,” he said. “To see such a passionate man, a man who did so much for me, to be gone.”