Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Richards Providing Rangers With Clutch Plays That Bring Teams To Next Level

Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images
The New York Rangers have spent the past few seasons cultivating a group of young players as the core of their team to build a sustainable contending team in the NHL.  Players like Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky, Dan Girardi and Marc Staal went through their early development and are now key pieces to the puzzle.  Others like Derek Stepan, Ryan McDonagh, Artem Anisimov, Michael Sauer and Michael Del Zotto are still young in their development, but having their roles advanced daily.  What they were missing was another difference maker to go with Henrik Lundqvist and a hopefully rebounding Marian Gaborik.  That is where Brad Richards came in.

The Rangers signed the star center to a nine-year, $60 million deal this summer in hopes that he was that piece to push the team away from fighting for a final playoff birth down the stretch to contending for Atlantic Division, Eastern Conference and even Stanley Cup titles.  Not all has gone to plan for Richards personally on the ice, but the team is doing exactly that with their seven game winning streak pushing them to an impressive 10-3-3, only two points out of the top spot in the league.

The most recent win was one where Richards showed his worth on the ice as he was a dominant player with the puck on his stick all night and used a slap shot from the left circle to cash in a Brandon Dubinsky pass with 4:55 left to win the game.  That is the type of goal that makes the difference not just in one point or two on that particular night, but the confidence in the locker room that the team will find a way to win that game. 

It was the kind of clutch play that the Rangers have been missing to take that next step.  Too often the Rangers have battled and scrapped their way through a game, generating chances only to come up one goal short. 

Speaking after the game last night Henrik Lundqvist told reporters that his late goal is exactly why you sign Richards to the contract the Rangers did.

"A guy like that has the tendency to step up at the right time. It's not a coincidence," Lundqvist said. "I think his focus is good when it comes down to the final minutes and you need that extra play. That's great to see."

It wasn’t the first clutch goal Richards has scored on the season either.  While it wasn’t in the final five minutes Richards late second period goal against Montreal was critical to the Rangers winning that game.  Against Anaheim Richards scored a huge late goal to salvage a point against Anaheim in the second game of the season.  

That is the type of difference the Rangers were looking for when they made the deal this summer to bring Richards to New York.  He is paying those dividends repeatedly with important goals. Only time will tell if Richards addition and the Rangers hot start makes the difference down the stretch in what they are fighting for, but three clutch goals from a player in their first 16 games with the team is certainly not a bad way to start off a nine-year contract on Broadway.