EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – Mike Richards almost laughed at the question.
No, he doesn't ever feel like the Los Angeles Kings are his team; not when he doesn't wear the 'C' on his sweater and not when there's an actual captain, Dustin Brown, and other longer-tenured Kings such as Matt Greene and Anze Kopitar in the room.
The question doesn't seem so far-reaching, though, considering how Richards and linemate Jeff Carter have done a lot of the heavy lifting for the Kings in the early stages of this season. Many observers might readily identify Brown and Kopitar as the leaders of Los Angeles, but it's really been Richards and Carter.
Kopitar leads L.A. in scoring, but it took him 10 games to get his first goal and he has three in 15 games. Brown has been quiet offensively since coach Darryl Sutter took him off the top line, though he might go back there Thursday night when the Kings play the Buffalo Sabres.
Meanwhile, Richards has assisted on two of L.A.'s overtime goals and scored a game-winning shorthanded goal against the Phoenix Coyotes on Oct. 24. He scored a goal in regulation and one in a shootout win against the Edmonton Oilers on Oct. 27, before Carter got hurt three days later.
"Shorthanded they're dangerous. Five-on-five, they've played together for a long time now. They instinctively know where each other is, and both of them have been able to produce. It doesn't matter who plays on the wing with them. They've been the constant pair and offensively I think they've been the leaders for their team."
The Kings have badly needed their penalty-killing because this season they've been shorthanded 63 times, tied for the second-most in the NHL going into Wednesday. Their penalty-killing unit, a team strength under Sutter, is ranked 22nd in the NHL and a very un-Kings-like 29th at home.
"Obviously the percentage isn't what we want it to be, but we make it hard on ourselves by taking so many penalties," Richards said. "It's not just how many we take but how we take them too – right after a big kill we take another one and go right back out there when your killers are still tired. Having to get right back out there is tough.
"There's some good penalties that you want to take, but you can't take that much time on the penalty kill and expect to kill them all off. There's some good power plays out there and teams that move the puck around really well. When you get that many opportunities, you make adjustments and eventually it goes in your net."
When Carter returns from a foot injury, the Kings can get back to the Richards-Carter dynamic. The two did not play much together for the Philadelphia Flyers, but have now logged more than 100 games in L.A., including the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"I think we're comfortable with each other now," Richards said. "It took a little bit to get adjusted, more so than anything, and then once that happened I think we read off each other well, and maybe it's tough to play with us sometimes because we read off of each other so well, and then you have the other guy on the line trying to see what's going on too. It's doesn't make it easy but at the same time him and I talk a little on the ice. The communication's not bad."
Much of Richards' value cannot be measured on the stat sheet. It's really more the way he breaks up passes and his active stick that make a difference for the Kings. His shorthanded goal was the 28th of his career, tied with Martin St. Louis of the Tampa Bay Lightning for most among active players.
Kings goalie Jonathan Quick has a good seat to see Richards work.
"He takes care of his own end, which everybody needs," Quick said. "When you get something at the other end, it's kind of a little bonus. It keeps them on their toes … you'll get teams adjusting their power play around how aggressive we are and how we're able to create chances on our own.
"Going in, you know what you're looking for out of their power play and the chances they're trying to create and what we're trying to take away. He's one of the better guys in the League in taking those chances away."
Richards, a former Flyers captain, has had a captain-like effect on L.A., which is 47-11-10 when he records a point, including a 19-5-2 mark in 2012-13. When Richards went out with a concussion in the Western Conference Semifinals last spring, the Kings were sunk without his two-way play and faceoff ability.
Richards deflects his unspoken leadership in the Kings' room, partly because of the aforementioned voices that are already there. Perhaps that's the dynamic that general manager Dean Lombardi envisioned when he acquired Richards in June 2011.
"I think we do a good job of leadership by committee where it's Brown on some nights who will say things Greenie and Kopitar or myself," Richards said. "It kind of gets pushed around to different people, and [Jarret Stoll]. When you have that, I think the message gets out a lot more because it's not coming from the same guy every time."
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