To state the obvious, Richards’ on-ice impact extends well beyond the scoresheet.
He sets the tone and leads by example, battling in the trenches and forcing opponents to earn every inch of ice they get. He’s also a facilitator, providing good puck support and routinely putting his teammates in a position to succeed with subtle, crafty plays all over the ice.
Nevertheless, CapGeek.com indicates that he’s paid like a top-six forward and he must produce in kind.
At the very least, he needs to produce more scoring chances.
After a really strong start to the season (27 points in 32 games), he’s run into a dry spell, tallying a miserable 12 points over his last 37 outings. He's recently been paired with a great skater and shooter in Jeff Carter—with whom he has wonderful chemistry—so he has no excuse for his offensive output.
On L.A.’s second forward unit, which is more rooted in swift transition than grinding possession, the key is dominating the neutral zone. Richards, Carter and whoever starts on left wing must focus on exiting their end cleanly and with speed.
When Richards has his feet moving and the puck on his stick, his line is difficult to handle.
Carter’s pace and shot can cause fits for the opposition while Richards’ savvy playmaking should be generating more opportunities than this group has seen in the past week or so.
Obviously, not every shift Richards’ line takes will gravitate around rushes, so the trio must pull up its sleeves and do the dirty work when the tempo slows to a crawl. Richards has to outmaneuver bigger and faster players to extend shifts in the offensive zone. While that’s a tall order to be sure, he’s dealt with it throughout his entire career.
In a nutshell, L.A.’s second-line pivot has to find his postseason fire a couple of weeks early. When he’s on his game, there isn’t a team in the league that can handle the Kings’ all-around 1-2 punch at center.
If he digs in, then the chances, points and wins will follow.
If he doesn’t, then the Kings' playoff chances will suffer a serious blow.