When the Capitals pulled Mike Richards off his couch in Kenora, Ontario and signed him to a one-year contract worth a prorated $1 million back on Jan. 6, many wondered if the 31-year-old center still had what it took to be an effective player in the NHL.
Two and a half months later, Richards is providing a very quiet but impactful answer.
Richards netted just his second goal in 29 games since joining the Capitals in Tuesday night’s 4-2 win over the Ottawa Senators, but it was his expertise on the penalty kill in the faceoff circle and in the defensive zone that had head coach Barry Trotz most impressed.
“That’s one of the reasons we got Mike, for crucial situations, defending leads, and he’s done that,” Trotz said. “That’s what he does. I thought the Richie and (Tom) Wilson and (Daniel) Winnik line was pretty solid tonight.”
Since entering the Caps’ lineup on Jan. 16, Richards has played in all 29 games, averaging 12:16 of ice time. And while he has not been counted on to provide offense the way he did in Philadelphia (where he recorded a career-high 80 points in 2008-09) or Los Angeles (where he had 41 points just two seasons ago), Richards leads all Caps forwards in shorthanded ice time per game (2:24) and has helped the Caps rank fourth in the NHL on the penalty kill.
Trotz pointed to the Caps’ ability to kill off Ottawa’s 5-on-3 advantage late in the first period as a “big turning point” in Tuesday night’s win. Richards was also on the ice in the closing minutes of the third period with the Caps protecting a one-goal lead.
He said the key to preserving leads is protecting the middle of the ice and being sure to dump pucks deep every time there is an opportunity.
“If there’s a chance (offensively), you make sure to go,” he said. “But obviously you’re trying to limit their chances and I think we did that. It’s nice the PK stepped up and (Braden) Holtby made some big saves, but we probably could have protected the puck better.
“We continue to build our game. It’s not where we want to be right now.”