Make no mistake about this: Barry Trotz had a big say in the Capitals’ pursuit and signing of center Mike Richards and we’re starting to see why.
In his first two games as a Capital, Richards has averaged 12:24 of ice time, has logged 6:16 in penalty-kill time, and has taken 31 faceoffs, winning 19 of them, including 14 of 20 in Sunday night’s 5-2 win over the New York Rangers.
“I probably went into the weekend thinking maybe (Richards would play) in that 7-to-8-minute range in the first game and maybe 10 at the high end in the second game,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said.
“Thirteen (minutes) is probably higher than I expected, but what you see is how competitive he is. You can skate all you want in practice and do all your battle drills. But when the game is happening there’s a fire that’s inside that young man that sort of makes him compete and he does a really good job.”
In his first two games Richards centered a fourth line with four different wingers. In Buffalo he played between Michael Latta and Zach Sill. On Sunday he centered a line with Brooks Laich and Stan Galiev.
Richards’ greatest value might be on the penalty kill, where he has not been on the ice for a power-play goal against.
“It’s probably like riding a bike for him,” Trotz said. “That and a high hockey IQ. His stick position is outstanding. It’s always on the ice, which is key for any penalty killer and he’s terrific on draws. I think he’s going to be a real good upgrade in that area of our game.”
Richards, who has 28 career shorthanded goals, has spent his first two games with the Caps paired up with 21-year-old Tom Wilson on one of the Caps’ three PK pairs.
“He’s a real smart player,” Wilson said. “Obviously, he’s done it in the past. He’s got a bunch of shorthanded goals. You can just tell out there, even in practice, he’s just real smart. Even 5-on-3 he’s in all the right places, anticipating the right plays. If we can build up that chemistry that would be awesome.”
Before center Jay Beagle suffered a hand injury on Dec. 30, Wilson was killing penalties alongside Beagle. Now he’s learning from a player once considered one of the game’s top two-way forwards.
“There’s still a tiny bit of rust, but you can tell he’s doing all the right things,” Wilson said, “and once he gets back into game mode he’s going to be a hell of a player, like he has been for a long time.”
Since Marcus Johansson (six points in six games) has fit in nicely on the Caps’ third line with wingers Jason Chimera and Wilson, Trotz said he’s likely to keep him there and work Richards into the lineup wherever he can.
“We’ll see,” Trotz said. “Jojo has done a good job. I think what you’ll see us do is flip flop people around. Once we get everybody healthy, then we’ll have some balance right through.”