|Since returning from a lower-back injury, Brad Richards has a goal and two assists in the past eight games. He's also second on the team with 26 shots in that span. (Photo by Dave Reginek/Detroit Red Wings) |
DETROIT – Now in his 15th NHL campaign, Brad Richards is used to getting that first goal of the new season out of the way pretty early.
Prior to signing with the Red Wings as a free agent last July, Richards scored a goal in seven season openers in his career.
Unfortunately, a lower-back injury during training camp caught up to the 35-year-old center during the Red Wings’ October road trip to western Canada.
So when he finally did score his first regulation goal as a Red Wing – in a 5-4 overtime win against the Nashville Predators last Saturday – he was beyond relieved to get it out of the way.
“It was getting a little annoying,” Richards said Monday. “As long as you’ve been around you go home and tell yourself ‘tomorrow is a new day’ it still eats at you. The good thing is since I’ve been back we haven’t really lost a game in regulation so you’re not pressing as much as you could be.”
The lower-back pain reached the tipping point in late October, so Richards sought the medical advice of a back specialist in New York. Rest was the prescription, which landed Richards on the sidelines for 13 games.
But things are starting to pick up for the former 10-time 20-goal scorer.
Since returning Nov. 20, Richards has a goal and two assists with a plus-4 rating in eight games. He’s also scored a game-deciding goal in a shootout win over Buffalo (Dec. 1) and is second on the team – only to Dylan Larkin – with 26 shots on goal. The rookie forward has 30 shots in the last eight games.
Confidence has never been an issue for Richards, who says he felt good even before his goal that bounced in off of a Predators’ defender.
“The good thing about goals a lot of times you get one and you see the ice more, feel faster, feel better, you hold the puck more and that’s the main thing,” he said.
Upon his return, it’s taken some time to find his rhythm. For a time, Richards was even synced on the fourth line, an assignment, he says, probably did him some good.
“Sometimes other guys are going,” Richards said. “I know nothing is forever in hockey. I’ve been around long enough. It’s probably just other guys are going. … You don’t dwell on it, go out and get back to work. Every game takes on a different light. You never know what’s going to happen. It’s still early December. There were many times last year you think the world is coming to the end and you end up with the Stanley Cup. It’s day-by-day this league, it’s such a long season, you just have to stay with it.”
The last few games, Richards has been on the third line made up of all natural centermen, along side Darren Helm and Pavel Datsyuk.
Richards has played with some elite players during his career, but he says Datsyuk is definitely a different breed that takes some getting used to playing with.
“He’s just such a good player, being able to hold onto pucks,” Richards said. “I’ve just got to get used to some of his tendencies. We’ll see where it goes. I’m confident in the way I’m playing, just go out there and play on the wing and be effective with whoever that’s the main thing getting my game ready.”
Coach Jeff Blashill likes the potential that Richards, Datsyuk and Helm can bring to the bottom six.
“When it’s Brad and Pav and Helmer, it’s a pretty good combo in a sense of speed on the line with Helmer, net presence with Helmer and tenacity, and then Brad and Richie are both elite-skilled players,” Blashill said. “They both have real good mind for the game, they both have real good sticks. So to me it’s been a pretty good combo when we found them together.”