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Richards to give fans inside look with 'NHL 36'

Wednesday, 02.22.2012 / 1:00 AM / Player Profiles

By Curtis Zupke - NHL.com Correspondent

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Richards to give fans inside look with 'NHL 36'
Living close to the beach and playing for a team contending for a playoff spot has been a fun change for L.A. Kings' forward Mike Richards.
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Sometimes after practice, Los Angeles Kings center Mike Richards will put on a pair of shorts in the middle of winter and make his way down to the Manhattan Beach Pier.

He'll stop for coffee and make his way past the ridiculously fit mothers jogging with strollers and the local beachcombers taking advantage of another splendid day in the tony section of the South Bay.

He'll grab his dog, a black Labrador named Arnold, and the two will disappear into the beach tableau.

It's a moment of relaxation and anonymity, but take a step back and the paradox comes too easily:

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Here is Richards in a Southern California paradise, yet his team is in trouble. Here is Richards with the Pacific Ocean steps from his front door, yet his Los Angeles Kings are in a drought.

Drama? Richards already has been through a coaching change and suffered a concussion in his first three months as a King. It makes it all the more difficult to evaluate his L.A. experience to this point, so he doesn't try to figure it out.

"It's been an up-and-down year," said Richards, the subject of the latest episode of "NHL 36," which will debut Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network. "There's been a lot of hurdles you have to go over. But you don't expect it to be smooth sailing."

Call this a rip tide for Richards and the Kings, who have been shut out 1-0 in back-to-back games and have dropped from the top eight in the Western Conference.

A Kings squad that many thought would be a top-four team in the West is 30th in the League in scoring at 2.03 goals per game, and change could be coming with the Feb. 27 trade deadline approaching.

It's a marked change for Richards from this time a year ago, when Richards was captaining a Philadelphia Flyers team that was 39-15-5 through 59 games and was among the highest-scoring teams in the NHL.

Wayne Simmonds, who went to Philadelphia with Brayden Schenn and a draft pick in exchange for Richards (and prospect Rob Bordson), would lead the Kings right now with 20 goals.

No wonder Richards needs to clear his head with Arnold at the beach.

"That's the thing I think that's the most frustrating side of it -- that the talent that we have, we can't put the finger on why we're not scoring," Richards said.

"I've never seen anything like it or been a part of something like this where we have so many chances and we just can't seem to put the puck in the net. I'm not sure what it is, but the only way we can get out of it is working harder, and we have some work to do."

Statistically, Richards has not been the same since he suffered a concussion on a hit by Florida's Sean Bergenheim on Dec. 1. He missed three weeks, but has just three goals since the injury, and only one since Jan. 14.

Richards said physically he's fine, and added, "I'm getting a lot of looks at the net. I'm just not able to put it in."

Mike Richards
Center - LAK
GOALS: 14 | ASST: 14 | PTS: 28
SOG: 122 | +/-: 0
That could be said of most of the Kings' forwards, but Richards also brings the gritty, detail-oriented play that defined his captaincy of the Flyers.

In an Oct. 22 game against Dallas, Richards fought Steve Ott and later won an offensive-zone faceoff that produced the game-winning goal.

Last week Richards won 12 of 18 faceoffs and combined with Anze Kopitar to win 29 of 40 draws in a 2-1 overtime loss to the New York Islanders. The next day he got an assist and won 13 of 19 faceoffs in a 4-2 win against Dallas.

Last Thursday saw the 5-foot-11 Richards engage in a fight with 6-foot-6 Phoenix center Martin Hanzal.

"It looked like a monster fighting a kid or something," said Kings defenseman Drew Doughty, who also played with Richards on the 2010 Canadian Olympic team. "He did a good job. … It got our team going.

"A lot of people who don't know a lot about hockey probably wouldn't realize a lot of the things he does. His hockey IQ is probably one of the best on our whole team. He just does little things with his stick and little things with his positioning that a lot of other players can't do. He wins those important draws."

It's that brand of Doug Gilmour-esque intangibles that make Richards a valued player in the locker room and a favorite of former Kings coach Terry Murray and new coach Darryl Sutter.

Sutter was somewhat surprised that the rather private Richards signed on for "NHL 36," which meant he had a camera crew following him for 36 straight hours.

Sutter alluded to Richards' quiet leadership when he said, "I'm sure a lot of it is natural. The game is such that leadership is defined a lot of times by star players or (being in the) public eye or popular players or guys that are well-spoken.

"But at the end of the day, it's about actual performance in big situations. That's really how it's always measured. Everything else is just sort of smoke."

The latest episode of "NHL 36" will feature L.A. Kings forward Mike Richards. (Photo: Noah Graham/NHLI)
Richards smiled when asked if there will be any surprises or reveals in his "NHL 36" episode. His exit from Philadelphia had a controversial postscript when a Philadelphia Daily News gossip columnist wrote about Richards' alleged partying.

Richards, who has said that was blown out of proportion, said, "I live a pretty simple life. I don't do anything extravagant. I don't have kids. It's just me being around my house. Nothing exciting. Maybe they can spice that up."

Richards has played along in other media realms. He filmed a comedy skit for the website Funnyordie.com and recently participated in a "Twitterview" in which he answered questions from his Twitter followers.

Spoiler alert: Richards has, on occasion, worn flip flops to practice. An avid tennis fan, Richards sometimes hits balls near his Manhattan Beach home. He goes mostly unrecognized.

It is in those simple moments that he enjoys his new home.

"Waking up by the ocean, being around the sun all the time puts me in a good mood," he said. "I think it gives me more energy, too. Going to the rink when the sun's shining, I think it always gives you that little extra boost. You wake up when it's raining or cloudy, you always feel like you can't get out of bed. But here it doesn't happen very often."

Landing a player like Richards hasn't happened often for the Kings in the post-Wayne Gretzky era. Los Angeles has lost out on pursuits of Ilya Kovalchuk and Brad Richards the past two offseasons.

Richards said he's surprised more players don't want to come here.

"I think they will once you establish yourself as a good team and you have good players and word starts getting out," he said. "It's hard in the East. When I was there you didn't hear too much about it. The games were so late you don't hear much about anything. The 36 hours might shed some light on how nice it is here and how the organization treats us and how good we have it here -- so close to Staples Center. It's such a neat place to live, not only lifestyle-wise, but the hockey here, the fans are passionate. They sell out every game."

A few minutes later Richards walked out of the Kings' practice facility in a T-shirt and jeans. It was, after all, a brisk 58 degrees in Los Angeles.

Quote of the Day

I just think about how much it hurts. The feelings aren't going to go away, probably never. It's just something that sticks with you for a long time.

— San Jose forward Logan Couture to The Canadian Press on the Sharks' first-round loss to the Kings after taking a 3-0 series lead