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Richards a star in all situations for Flyers

Friday, 03.20.2009 / 10:00 AM / NHL on NBC Spotlight

By Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer

It's only a matter of time before Philadelphia Flyers center Mike Richards is recognized as the NHL's top defensive forward.

Don't believe it? Hockey Hall of Famer and Flyers legend Bob Clarke, who won the Selke Trophy as the League's top defensive forward in 1983, certainly does.

"I never really watched myself on television, but if I'm compared to Richie, that's a real compliment to me," Clarke told NHL.com. "He's just the full Canadian package because he can fight, he can check, he can take faceoffs, give assists and is just a terrific playmaker. He never has to rely on one part of his game to be an effective player and that's the sign of a complete hockey player."

Hockey fans can check out Richards' repertoire Sunday afternoon (12:30 p.m. ET) when the Flyers face the Pittsburgh Penguins on the NHL on NBC.

"There's no question in my mind he's in that category (as best defensive forward) because we have him playing against the top players every night and he continues to kill penalties and produce offensively while playing big minutes," Flyers coach John Stevens said. "He's as important to our team as a (Pavel) Datsyuk is to Detroit."

Richards has made a living away from the puck while not sacrificing other parts of his game.

The Philadelphia captain leads the team with 44 assists and 71 points, but he also leads the team's forwards with 21:43 of ice time per game, he's tied for first with a plus-25 rating and he's second with 125 hits -- already 15 more than last season.

"He has a great understanding of the game at both ends of the ice and he works like a dog all the time; you have to in order to be considered a great defensive forward," Clarke said. "The one other thing that makes him a complete player is the fact he's not a very easy guy to play against."

Richards leads the League with 7 shorthanded goals, and on Feb. 15 he set an NHL record with his third 3-on-5 goal. He also became the first player since Joe Sakic in 1998 to score shorthanded goals in three straight games (Feb. 15-21).

"You don't score shorthanded goals at the rate Richie does without being a complete player," Clarke said. "My guess would be that (Richards) hates losing more than he likes winning. That's the same way I felt."

Why so much shorthanded success?

"I think it's just the pressure that we put on the teams," Richards said. "We don't give them too many opportunities to set up, and when they do set up our goalies are there to make saves or we collapse the middle and do a great job of getting in the way of shots and blocking shots. If you don't give the opponent time to make plays, they're sometimes going to panic and make plays they normally wouldn't make."

Richards signed a 12-year contract extension in December 2007, and became the 17th captain in franchise history Sept. 17. At the age of 23, Richards became the third-youngest captain in Flyers history -- only Eric Lindros and Clarke were younger.

"I just think Mike Richards is a player that has all the characteristics we want on our team," Stevens said. "We want a guy out there that when we see him playing, he is representative of the identity of our hockey team. I think Mike is all of that. He can help your team win by scoring, by checking or by playing physical. He's just a big-game player that I think any team would love to have."

On Sunday, Richards will lead his team into Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh for the sixth and final regular-season meeting between the Atlantic Division rivals this season. The Keystone State clash will be featured as the NHL on NBC Game of the Week (12:30 p.m. ET).

The Pens hold a 4-1-0 lead in the season series, and if you take into account Pittsburgh's five-game series triumph in the Eastern Conference Final last spring, the Pens are 8-2-0 against Philadelphia over their last 10 meetings. The Flyers and Penguins currently are tied for fourth in the Eastern Conference with 84 points.

Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby, who has 4 goals and 8 points against the Flyers this season, has made a living making life miserable for Philly with 20 goals and 45 points in 25 career games. Evgeni Malkin, who has 3 goals and 6 points in the season series, has 13 goals and 21 points in 20 career games.

"Pittsburgh is the hottest team in the League right now and their stars have really stepped up and they have two of the best offensive players in the world (Crosby and Malkin), and I think (defenseman) Sergei Gonchar coming back has helped them, as well," Stevens said. "Their team is playing with a lot of confidence right now and we're really going to have to be ready to play from the opening drop of the puck."

Contact Mike Morreale at mmorreale@nhl.com.
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