Brad Richards is second in the NHL with 19 points in the month of March. Richards is 1-4-5 in his last five games and is only four assists away from hitting the 40-assist plateau which has been a trademark for the 31-year-old playmaker. When Richards arrived to New York he was pretty hot. He was averaging a point per game early on but January was a tough month for Richards.
Fans were a bit disappointed with Richards and a struggling powerplay didn’t help matters. However the Rangers are a team that takes everything one game at a time. Each game little by little, Richards’ game showed signs of improvement. Richards currently has 24 goals and 36 assists for 60 overall points.
He is an improvement over every center the Rangers had last year and now that he is comfortable in John Tortorella’s system the sky is the limit for Richards going forward. Tortorella may have coached Richards before but he is a completely different coach now then he was when he was running Tampa Bay’s bench in the early 2000s. Tortorella strictly enforces a hard-nosed blue collar defense system where every player needs to hit, check, block shots and play smart.
If you don’t play two-way hockey, you sit on the bench. Lucky for Richards, he is a player who can play in both ends and has improved defensively over the years. Richards is a career minus player but that was during a time when Richards was a younger player who thought primarily about offense.
With Richards leading the charge, the Rangers will have an advantage in the playoffs as opposed to previous years. Richards is a playoff veteran and is known to explode when the games become tougher.
The biggest concern for the Blueshirts come playoff time is scoring. The team has been a steady defensive team with amazing goaltending all year long. In the playoffs, teams take less chances and games are low scoring. With the Rangers excelling in games with a score of 2-1, 1-0, 3-2 and so on, having a new-found offensive spark in Richards could work wonders for them.
The Rangers will face off against the Montreal Canadiens on Friday at Madison Square Garden. Fans and players will eagerly await the results from tomorrow’s matchup between the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Islanders. If the Islanders can squeak out another win, the Rangers would have an opportunity to take a seven point lead over the Penguins with four games remaining. With one of those games against the Penguins, the Rangers and Richards have greatly increased the odds of winning the division, the conference and the Presidents’ Trophy.
Tom Urtz is a New York Rangers Columnist.
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