Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Richards needs to back up talk

Brad Richards had a lot to say following Tuesday's 4-1 trouncing at the hands of the Devils. The top center who Glen Sather brought in for offensive help and leadership wasn't wrong in his assessment regarding some inconsistent play that's crept into the Rangers, who could have the Penguins breathing down their necks if Pittsburgh beats Toronto later tonight. The Pens trail the top seeded Blueshirts by eight for the division with Sidney Crosby on the horizon.

"They [Devils] wanted to beat us really bad; you could feel that from the start, and I can’t say for sure that we felt the same way," Richards told NY Post beat writer Larry Brooks following a third straight game in which they permitted three-or-more goals.

For the bitter Hudson rival, it's true there was more urgency due to their playoff positioning. The Devils entered yesterday having dropped five of six, including a few on home ice. Their lead on eighth Winnipeg was five and still were eight clear of ninth Washington. Aside from needing the game, it was evident that they were out to prove a point to their blood rivals, who have gotten all the ink this season.

“They came at us like they knew they had to win the game because of the playoff battle they’re in, but if we don’t turn this around in a hurry we’ll be down there in that seven-eight spot before you can blink,’’ Richards added.

It was the Devils who responded to the Blueshirts' challenge with a dominant third, outscoring New York 3-zip while winning every battle against a lethargic club who didn't match their intensity. Like Ilya Kovalchuk did at the outset, the guys in red and black cashed in on Ranger mistakes with both cult hero David Clarkson and Ryan Carter scoring back-to-back to give their fans plenty to get excited about. They wanted it more and when it was over, the Devs had improved to 3-2 against the Rangers. Albeit one came in the shootout but the last two New Jersey wins were in regulation, including a 1-0 shutout at MSG last month. Proof that Pete DeBoer's club can play with a despised rival who they could see this Spring. A second or third round match-up would be supreme. For now, the two clubs will continue to try to rack up as many points and let it all play out.

While the Devils can feel good about themselves, it's back to the drawing board for Richards and his teammates, who've looked lethargic recently. Bad habits are becoming a bad spell with more pucks to be had for opportunistic opponents and lax coverage in front of meal ticket Henrik Lundqvist, who was under siege last night. Even the return of captain Ryan Callahan couldn't prevent it. Richards continued:

“We’ve lost some of our desperation over the last while and we have to get it back. We have to get back to playing with the emotion and commitment that got us the lead in the division. Our intensity, our attention to detail and our preparation has kind of been on and off and that’s not something we can accept or allow if we want to be a great franchise.”

Part of becoming great is battling adversity along the way. It's the Rangers who now have the collective target on their back. An area this Original Six club hasn't been used to in quite some time. No longer are Messier, Graves, Tikkanen, Larmer, Kovalev, Nemchinov, Leetch, Beukeboom, Zubov, Lowe and Richter around to save them. It'll be up to a new collection that includes Callahan, Gaborik, Richards, Dubinsky, Stepan, Anisimov, Hagelin, Staal, Girardi, McDonagh, Del Zotto and Lundqvist to rise up to the challenge that lies ahead.

Amazingly, almost every name listed is home grown with only Ryan McDonagh coming in a trade they'll talk about for ages in Montreal, Gaborik in his third year in Manhattan and Richards the meal ticket they paid handsomely to leave Big D. The latter has had an interesting first year on Broadway. It started out well enough with Richards doing in the hated Pens. Even though he didn't find chemistry with top sniper Marian Gaborik, who works best with super soph Derek Stepan and Anisimov, the former Conn Smythe hero who helped Tampa Bay and familiar coach John Tortorella lift the Cup was doing fine between do everything leader Callahan and Hagelin, who's constant energy is too hard to favor Brandon Dubinsky with last year's top scorer having a tough time despite the Rangers' success. Fortunately, he caught a break during his scrap with Carter, which Tortorella updated today as being sinus related. Maybe it's a good omen.

One can't debate Richards being instrumental in the locker room with a very young nucleus. From all accounts, he's been a good teammate. The consumate pro, which kinda reminds us of Chris Drury. With 17 games left, Richie as they call him ranks third in club scoring with 45 points. The 18 goals (third), which include a team-tying seven game-winners are respectable for a man who's never scored 30. Ironically, he came closest in his contract year getting 28 with Dallas.

Richards wasn't brought in for his goalscoring prowess. But rather his acumen for setting up teammates and adding to a pedestrian power play that's driven Ranger fans nuts for years. Even with the team on its way to a sixth postseason over seven years post-lockout, the man-advantage has been a sore spot. It didn't matter who they tried after Jaromir Jagr and Brendan Shanahan. There's still no trigger. Richards was supposed to fix that along with revitalized Mike Del Zotto, who will never remind anyone of the No.2 that hangs in the rafters. No disrespect to the third-year blueliner who's still learning but he rarely shoots and when he does, let's just say they remind of a former defenseman known for hitting an advertisement by the corner.

Last year, the 31-year old from Prince Edward Island tallied seven PPG while adding 22 assists. Solid numbers. It should be pointed out that in '09-10, he put up 40 power play points including 13 power play tallies en route to a career tying 91 points. You don't have to be a math expert to figure out the percentage. Granted. There's less talent to work with here. But a paltry three PPG and 13 PPA aren't enough. It can't happen when it all turns real in mid-April.

There have been too many stretches where you don't notice Richards. Another example in a huge game against the Devils. He is spending too much time on the perimeter while hesitating to shoot. Overpassing is something that's sickened the true blueseaters for years. It's time for Richie to step up his game. Without him, the Rangers are sunk.

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