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Richards a Star in All Situations

by Mike G. Morreale / Philadelphia Flyers

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 "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, Crosby meet again

Mike Richards, who captained Canada to a gold medal at the 2005 World Junior Championship gold medal in Grand Forks, N.D., not only had current Flyers teammates Jeff Carter and Braydon Coburn along for the ride, but Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby too.

Together, the foursome helped Canada outscore the opposition 41-7 while going 6-0. They yielded just three even-strength goals and allowed an average of 12 shots per game. In the gold-medal game, Canada beat Russia, led by Alexander Ovechkin, 6-1. It not only marked Canada's first World Junior title since 1997, but also signaled the first of five straight.

"It was a great experience," Crosby said. "Anytime you get to represent your country and win, you have a deeper appreciation for what it takes to go through a tournament like that. You also learn things from the guys around you and we ended up playing Russia with Ovechkin and (Evgeni) Malkin in that final, so you're just playing with and against the best players in the world. I don't think it's very difficult to improve in those circumstances."

Crosby had 6 goals and 9 points in the tournament. Richards had 1 goal and 5 points and Carter finished third on the team with 10 points (7 goals).

"From the first World Juniors I played (in 2004) to the second, there was such a big difference in (Crosby's) maturity, and as a player he stepped up big time in that one year," Richards said. "You knew he was going to become a good player, but the maturity he showed was something you really didn't expect."

Crosby, like Richards, goes about his work in a business-like fashion.

"Sid was kind of a quiet guy," Richards told "He joked around with everyone and the guys liked him. He would do anything for the team, but rarely did he ever seek advice from me."

-- Mike G. Morreale

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."

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."
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