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Kurtzberg’s Corner: Richards and Rangers Still a Work in Progress

The marriage between Brad Richards and the New York Rangers is still a work in progress.

Richards was the top rated free agent available this past summer and the Rangers were able to sign him to a hefty nine-year, $60 million contract.

Richards was supposed to add several things to the Blueshirts lineup:  He has experience since he had won a Stanley Cup with John Tortorella in Tampa Bay back in 2004; he would help provide the Rangers with a badly needed quarterback for the power play; and his playmaking talents would help Marian Gaborik bounce back from his subpar season of a year ago where the Rangers top sniper was too often ineffective and had his lowest goal total in a healthy season since 2004.

Well, nine games into the new season the reviews are decidedly mixed.  Richards has managed three goals and eight points, which nearly comes to a point-per-game pace and ties him for the club lead in scoring, but his play, and the play of the Rangers offense, has been uneven at best.

Richards picked up one point in each of the first five games he played for the Rangers before enduring a three game pointless drought.  However, the 6’, 190-pound native of Murray Harbour, Prince Edward Island, bounced back with a two goal, three point effort in the disappointing shootout loss to Ottawa on Saturday.

One thing that seems to be missing early on is any kind of chemistry between Richards and Gaborik. Thus far, the two big talents, when put together, do not seem to be helping each other lift their games.   Tortorella broke up the duo prior to Saturday night’s game because the top line was slumping and none of the other lines were picking up any scoring slack.

“I wish that Gaby and Richie just clicked right away,” Tortorella told Newsday. “I don’t enjoy changing everything up here.  Sometimes, you need to do that…It’s not one or two guys that you need to get going. This is a team thing, offensively, anyway. There are a number of people struggling.”

After the Rangers home opener, Richards explained the issues between Gaborik and himself.  “It would be great if we came in here and clicked perfectly, but realistically we have some work to do,” he said. “We’ve got to get to know each other on the ice.  We’re both used to having the puck and that’s a work in progress for sure.”

Saturday, Richards was moved to a new line with Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan in an attempt to jump start their offensive production while Gaborik moved to a unit with Wojtek Wolski and Erik Christensen.

While the pair was split for long stretches of the game, they played together as a lot as well, especially on the power play.  Both Gaborik and Richards were productive Saturday night, and both were on the ice together for three of the four Rangers goals.  Two of those tallies came with the man advantage.

Even with the two goal outburst on Saturday night, however, the Rangers power play still ranks a disappointing 21st in the NHL with five goals in 35 chances.  Richards and Gaborik have one power play goal each, well below expectations.

Richards has been playing point most of the time on the Rangers power play and that too needs some refinement.  If the Rangers hope to contend in the Eastern Conference, their play with the man advantage will have to improve.

Despite the slow start, Richards remains optimistic about his game and the future of his team.  “We’re being realistic, we’re playing some hockey that has to be better,” he told the Bergen Record after Sunday’s practice.  “But it’s not a light-switch type thing.  We’re behind the eight ball a little bit with overseas and coming back off a long road trip.”

Richards is not ready to panic.  He knows adjusting to playing on Broadway and playing with his new teammates will take some time.  “I didn’t sign for eight games,” Richards said. “There’s lots of hockey to be played.”

The Rangers certainly hope that the rest of the season is better than the beginning has been.

Written on October 31, 2011
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