Last year, the Capitals took a flier on two-time Stanley Cup champion Mike Richards, whose career was derailed in Los Angeles by a drug possession charge (which was later stayed). Richards, who had to be reinstated to the league by Gary Bettman, signed a pro-rated one-year, $1 million contract on January 16, 2016.
In 39 regular season games with the Capitals, Richards scored only two goals and had a dreary 4.3% shooting percentage. But that doesn’t tell the whole story. Richards was a strong penalty killer and had a 51.8% shot-attempt percentage at even strength, tilting the ice in the Caps’ favor when he was on the ice. During the playoffs, Richards delivered several big hits and even bigger clears, receiving 15 to 20 shifts a night from Barry Trotz.
Despite being a permanent part of the Caps’ line-up at the end of the year, Richards, an unrestricted free agent, appears likely not to return. Desiring an improved bottom six, GM Brian MacLellan non-tendered RFA Michael Latta, traded for third-line center Lars Eller, and signed forward Brett Connolly, shaking up the team’s third and fourth lines. Jay Beagle, the leading candidate to be the team’s fourth-line center, has two years remaining on his three-year, $5.25 million contract.
On Tuesday, the Capitals announced that Connolly will wear Richards’ number 10 next season. That’s kind of awkward if you ask me.
The Washington Capitals have played eleven games in this year’s postseason and, so far, forward Michael Latta has been a healthy scratch in all of them.
Normally the fourth-line center, since late February Latta has basically been replaced by Mike Richards. Sitting out can be difficult, but for Latta, it’s been more of an honor. Richards was Latta’s favorite hockey player as a child.
Monday night, the Philadelphia Flyers will play their first game at Wells Fargo Center since their owner and founder Ed Snider died last week at the age of 83. Snider was not a moneyman who remained distant from the team he owned. He knew his players personally, he was outspoken, and he was a legend in Philadelphia sports.
Before Game Three, Snider will be honored with a tribute video while fans will be lit up with orange wristbands. His initials are painted behind both nets. Snider was a man who touched many Flyers players and fans deeply, including some who now play for the Washington Capitals. Home ice advantage can be overstated. The opening minutes of Game Three, however, promise to emotional and deafening.
“The last week was a little tough,” Flyers captain Claude Giroux said after Monday’s morning skate. “I think it was tough on a lot of people, and that includes the organization, everybody that was ever involved with the Flyers. I think ex-players that have a relationship with Mr. Snider, I think it’s going to be pretty emotional.”
But, Giroux added, “We’re here to win a hockey game.”
So are the Capitals. Washington is looking to go up 3-0 in a best of seven playoffs series for the first time in team history.
Photo: Rob Carr
The Capitals penalty kill was the second-best unit in the league during the regular season, killing 85.2 percent of opponents’ chances. Yet on special teams, it was overshadowed by the power play, which finished fifth. While the PK doesn’t provide between-the-legs passes or booming one-timers, it has kept the Capitals in control of their first-round series against the Philadelphia Flyers.
Washington’s penalty kill is a perfect eight for eight. Going back to the last five games of the regular season, the opponents’ power plays have been stopped 21 times in a row. Despite outshooting the Capitals 61-54 overall in the first two games, the Flyers have scored just one goal. Washington has six, including three power-play goals, good for a 2-0 series lead.
“We got our butts on the line,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said after Saturday’s Game Two loss.
In Game One, Brayden Schenn leaped off the ice to try and lay out Mike Richards. “It’s Game One,” Richards said to RMNB’s Chris Gordon. “You’re gonna have a chance to finish your check on him later on.”
Well, Richards didn’t have a chance to get Schenn back. But he did teach a lesson to Nick Cousins.
Richards during Thursday’s morning skate. (Photo: Chris Gordon)
In Game One, a late game boarding penalty by Tom Wilson almost ended in disaster for Washington. If the Flyers had not retaliated, they would have had their seventh man-advantage of the game with a chance to tie the game. Wilson, however, also showed restraint against the Flyers, a team that has had price on his head ever since his rookie season.
“I think Willy has done a really good job the last little while of being disciplined and backing off any hits,” head coach Barry Trotz said after the game.
Wilson moderation came earlier in the game when Brayden Schenn, who Wilson infamously charged three seasons ago, delivered at hard hit on Mike Richards. Wilson briefly considered engaging in vigilantism until Richards stepped in.
“You do what you have to do,” Richards said of the incident. “Willy’s a really high energetic player. That’s the way you want to see him play. He wants to stick up for his teammates, but at the same time you have to understand the situation.”
Being responsible for an aesthetically pleasing Instagram account can be a difficult task, so we’ve got to commend Mike Richards for trying. Unfortunately, trying is not the same as succeeding.
Recently, the Caps forward set his profile to public, allowing fans to take a closer look at his glamorous life. Wait… I’m getting confused with Alex Ovechkin’s Instagram. Richards’ is just filled with pictures of fish and dogs. Oh, and two championship rings,
with a third to add to the collection after this postseason. So, only a little glamorous.
Photo: Amanda Bowen
The Mike Richards era in Washington is officially twenty games old. The Caps signed Richards in early January and, after getting up to speed in practice, he’s been a fixture on the bottom-six and on the penalty kill since then.
Given that he’s playing on a prorated, $1 million deal, had missed about half a season of hockey, and wasn’t able to hold down an NHL job with the LA Kings when he was last under contract, it would be unfair to have anything other than low expectations for the Canadian-born center.
But many of us are rooting for him to find redemption, in part because he is playing for the good guys, but much more so because he deserved better treatment than he got from the Kings at the end of his time there. So, let’s take a look and see how he’s done through his first 20 games in red.
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