Each month at Blueshirt Bulletin, we’ll pick one player from the Rangers who stood out in recent games and award him with the prestigious title of Blueshirt Bulletin’s Bull of the Month. Whether he has been the lone bright spot on the team or one of many, this player will have impressed us with his persistence, consistency, and overall superb play. In short, the Bulletin Bull is the defined difference-maker on the New York Rangers over the course of that month.
March’s Bull is: Brad Richards
Stats: 78 GP, 25 G, 39 A, +2 (+/-), 7 PPG, 9 GWG,
League Rank: T17th G, T15th A, T10th PPG, T3rd GWG
Highlight reel: Coast to Coast Goal Against the Isles (3/11), Coast to Coast Goal Against the Red Wings (3/21), Pass to Gaborik, vs. Leafs (3/24)
After averaging almost a point-per-game for the month of October, Brad Richards cooled off in the middle of the season, earning the ire of Blueshirt fans for not living up to the lofty expectations set for him before the season began. Added to this was the disappointment that the Gaborik-Richards experiment lasted a mere nine games before being separated and placed on different lines.
Recently, however, Richards has found his way back to the Rangers’ other marquee super star. Richards had been shuffled around for most of the season, but it seems that John Tortorella has finally found a new place for Broadway Brad on a line that simply clicks: With Marian Gaborik and rookie call-up Carl Hagelin.
This line jumped out of the gate following a streaky run that saw the Rangers go 4-4-2 and fail to come up with important goals. In a turnaround that included the Rangers at long last putting forth a legitimate top line, Gaborik-Richards-Hagelin combined for 9 points in a single game against the Carolina Hurricanes on March 13th. Since being assembled, this line has peppered a solid 100 shots on net over 11 games.
The Gaborik-Anisimov-Stepan line put up fantastic numbers for a while, but it was eventually disbanded. Even if Gaborik-Richards-Hagelin suffers the same fate, it has become evident that Richards will be able to able to make good things happen on the ice regardless of who his wingers are. Though he has not been the assists machine that he has proven to be in the past (he dished out a career high 68 assists in his 2005-2006 season with the Lightning and frequently approached that number in subsequent seasons), his 25 goals puts him well within reach of his career high of 28, achieved last season with the Dallas Stars.
Richards has also been slowly boosting the Rangers’ still rather powerless power play. He ranks 3rd on the team with 7 PPGs, having scored two power play goals against the Islanders on March 11th and assisted on Gaborik’s power play / game winning goal in overtime, and scoring one PPG last night against the Canadiens. Richards scored another two goals in the next game against Carolina—the famed Gaborik-Richards-Hagelin Show, in which the line earned 9 points in a single contest—and potted two more assists after that, earning 8 points in 3 games. He capped off the month of March by amassing the 2nd most points in the NHL during this four week stretch, amassing 22 points (7 goals, 15 assists) in 17 games. With 7 points in his last 4 games alone, Richards seems poised to carry on this pace well into April.
That Richards and Gaborik are at last developing chemistry bodes well for a New York team hoping to make more than just a splash in the playoffs this year. Richards demonstrated his extraordinary poise with the puck by scoring two impressive coast-to-coast goals this month. His on-ice awareness was also put on display when he saucered a perfect pass to Marian Gaborik after sliding back on-sides and picking up the puck all in one fluid motion. Added to his play on the ice, Richards has also continued to mentor young players like Michael Del Zotto, who chipped in two key goals in last night’s game against Montreal.
“Richie is really bringing his 'A' game right now. He's finding guys everywhere, and that's a key component having your center playing at his best.” – Carl Hagelin
“Brad’s game, he’s just seeing things better, and he’s allowing himself to play. That’s just creativity on his part.” – John Tortorella
A summary of Richards’ extraordinary play this month would not be complete without a mention of his linemates, Marian Gaborik and Carl Hagelin. Gaborik is just behind Richards in scoring for the month of March, with 20 points, and trails only Evgeni Malkin and Steven Stamkos in goals scored (39). Though he only earned one assist in his past six games, Hagelin has been an important catalyst on this line as well. In addition to this trio, Ryan Callahan continues to shine on Broadway—he can now add a game-winning overtime goal on his birthday and yet another Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award to his 2011-2012 repertoire. Captain Callahan remains first in the team in power play goals, with 12, and logged a mind-boggling season-high 27 minutes of ice time against Winnipeg on March 28th.