Mike Richards May Need New Linemates, But Giroux and Carter Aren't The Answer

Alistair SmoutContributor IFebruary 13, 2011

PHILADELPHIA, PA - FEBRUARY 03:  Mike Richards #18 of the Philadelphia Flyers skates during warmups before an NHL hockey game against the Nashville Predators at the Wells Fargo Center on February 3, 2011 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)
Paul Bereswill/Getty Images

There has been much talk over the last few weeks about finding some linemates for Mike Richards, and before testing the trade market, Coach Peter Laviolette has looked within for answers.

When you've played as well as the Flyers have, it's tempting to leave things be, for fear of upsetting the chemistry in the team. Certainly the Briere/Leino/Hartnell line looks in little danger of being tinkered with. 

However, in this calendar year, Nodl hasn't scored a goal, and Zherdev only has points in two games  As the once healthy production of Nodl, van Riemsdyk and Zherdev tails off, the stellar play of Carter and Giroux can only carry the team so far, and Richards, whose points total has ticked over thanks to his powerplay time with the likes of Leino and Carter, deserves better support 5-on-5.

So by the Kings game, Richards had replaced Zherdev on Giroux and Carter's line, with Nodl centring JVR and Carcillo. This theoretically allows the Flyers' best players to play together, while alleviating the pressure on JVR and Nodl of playing on a starting line with the Flyers' captain.

This could make sense. While struggling players benefit from playing with better linemates, they also invariably come up against tougher opponents. The Flyers have had success this season by rolling all three main offensive lines fairly evenly, but by creating bona fide first and third lines, Nodl and company can get chances in match-ups against weaker defensive units, while leaving the Richards line to face up to the likes of Kopitar.

However, this approach is misguided. The whole key to the Flyers' success this season is that they have had three lines of legitimate gamebreaking ability. Sure, each line may have a bit of deadwood, but going into the game, you wouldn't know where the offensive sparks would fly.

Perhaps BLH would've been hot last game out, but if their adversaries tried to shut them down, then Carter and Giroux could combine to take advantage, or Richards could make something happen.  

By combining them all on a top line, it makes the opposition's job much easier.

The immense talent on that top line will draw match-ups with top defencemen, so the line's potential is unlikely to be realized. While Nodl's line may get more favorable match-ups, it's for a reason: A line of Nodl, JVR and Carcillo has little gamebreaking potential, and it's unlikely they'll be able to take advantage.

Moreover, for a team stacked with centers, that line has no natural center, which seems strange.

I'm not saying it was wrong to try something a little different. But I don't imagine that this experiment will last long. The Kings game saw an anaemic Philly offense. Some of the blame for that goes to the stuttering powerplay, and some credit goes to Jonathan Quick.

But the Flyers' unbalanced offense played into the Kings' hands, and it was too easy to shut down. They had to have Richards out against Kopi, as Nodl couldn't shut him down, but with Richards, Giroux and Carter found their opportunities limited playing against the top line.

Spreading the big guns might help the Flyers return to winning ways. And if Paul Holmgren and the Flyers still think Richards needs a better supporting cast, then perhaps retooling through a trade might be the best option.