Disclaimer: I need to start off by saying when all factors are accounted for I am NOT worried about Brad Richards long-term. While he isn't having a terrific season, his .705 points per game are respectable and his six game-winning goals are a team high. Not to mention it is evident he is making an effort to change his game to fit the Rangers' style as he has already surpassed his hits and blocked shots totals from the past two years, including ranking fourth amongst New York Rangers forwards in blocked shots. Then there is the integral part he has played in the development of Michael Del Zotto, which is priceless. That being said, Richards simply is not playing as well as he could or should be.
It has been no secret that Richards has struggled with the transition to New York. He has been public about the fact, John Tortorella has been public about it, and his inconsistent play backs up the claim.
He had a terrific start, followed by a dull period, then put up a point a game for almost three weeks from late November to early December; but since then has put up just five goals and two assists over the last 18 games. The goals are just about his career norm, but for a guy who was brought in with the reputation of being an elite distributor, that kind of production is just unacceptable.
Fact: He is on pace to finish with the lowest assist total of his career, including a 2008-2009 season when he played in just 56 games.
Now going back to the title of this article, which is my observation of Richards' play lately.
For most of the game he seems afraid to carry the puck up the ice. I am understanding that the Rangers are a dump and chase hockey team, but much too often Richards is simply dumping the puck off to Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky or whomever is on his line all the way back in the neutral zone and they wind up carrying the puck into the zone anyway. Richards has to get back to what he does best and use his ability to posses the puck in order to get in down near the hash marks and set up his teammates.
And quite frankly, when he has tried to make passes, they just have not been very good. At the first sight of pressure he has been making quick passes, putting teammates in awkward positions and setting them up for failure to either get crunched or have nowhere to go with the puck. His displays of indecision have also led to a high quantity of turnovers, with his 22 ranking second amongst forwards on the Rangers.
This might sound a bit wacky (especially since I think Derek Stepan has almost passed a little too often), but Richards needs to start watching Stepan and play more like he has this season. It seems like at least two or three times a game Stepan leads a rush into the offensive zone and sets up a teammate up for a perfect scoring chance. This type of play is what was expected of Richards when he signed his big contract.
Richards needs to realize playing a dump and chase game does not mean you have to dump and chase all the time. It is about picking your spots to rush and right now Stepan is capitalizing on those moments while Richards is not. I saw Richards make a nice rush at the end of the Nashville game, but the game was all but over at that point and he is not doing it consistently enough or early enough for it to be effective.
The season is still young enough for Richards to make adjustments and he has already performed clutch enough for me to believe come playoff time he will be ready to go. Still, he needs to shake this tentative/indecisive nature and get back to doing what he does best by possessing the puck and adding another dimension to the Rangers offense.