By Surly Jacob.
Here at LA Kings News we love flashy hockey.
We go gaga for goals. We salivate over saves. Big hits work the bellows in the hearths of our hearts.
However what truly melts and endears us to the team we cherish are the little things. Plays that happen in an instant. Plays that are innocent in nature and simple in execution. Plays that show us this club is grasping the meaning of team hockey.
Thus, we bring you the first edition of “Little Big Man”, a series after every game in which we will focus on a particular player from the previous evening who made a little play that put a big smile on our face.
Featured today is 4th line center Brad Richardson.
In last night’s 2-1 road win against the St. Louis Blues, Richardson made one of those quietly exceptional plays. While some would prefer to be tracking the junior stats of the 2008 2nd round draft pick Dean Lombardi traded to acquire Richardson, this writer is increasingly more pleased with the utilitarian, intelligent play number 15 is bringing to the rink.
The play in question occurred at the 9:08 mark of the first period. Having just barely killed only their 5th penalty killed in 12 tries, thanks to exhilarating goaltending by Jonathan Quick, deft poke checking by Sean O’Donnell and heroic shot blocking by Michal Handzus, the game was still knotted at 0-0. The Blue’s followed up their power play momentum with crisp passing and strong defense in the neutral zone, while the Kings passes were starting to get sloppier.
After a couple of failed efforts to get the puck deep, the Kings were starting to fall back on their heels. Blue’s forward Brad Winchester drove the puck hard around the boards behind Quick where gritty center Jay McClement had the inside edge on a battle with Davis Drewiske. Bringing up the rear was the always dangerous sniper Brad Boyes (when did hockey get this many Brad’s?). It looked as if McClement was going to slip away from Drewiske’s check and find open ice when the King’s Brad, in great position backing up Drewiske, jumped in to the play.
Richardson, in one swift motion, stick checked McClement and banked a foot long backhand pass off the boards, directly to the previously beaten Drewiske. Richardson then stepped away, allowing his teammate space to spin and find Richardson free and clear of any attacking forechecker.
If you blinked, you missed it.
But this itsy bitsy little play allowed the Kings to clear the zone. This prime example of minutiae stopped the Blue’s attack in its tracks. Richardson then followed up the play with a cross-ice clearing pass, from his knees, directly on the tape of a breaking Peter Harrold, who promptly got the puck deep in the Blue’s zone. The 4th line proceeded to have the first shift of sustained forechecking pressure after the aforementioned penalty kill. We all know how important the first good shift after a penalty kill can be, and that the time between that penalty kill and that good shift can be proportionally measured against the quality of hockey played for the next several minutes.
It can be the difference between a goal for and a goal against.
Richardson worked hard that shift. He made another good play along the boards to sustain the pressure.
One minute and 26 seconds later, the Kings were on the power play. 18 seconds after that, the Kings were leading 1-0.
This is not meant to take anything away from the great work by Ryan Smyth to draw the penalty or score the goal. Nor to snub the potentially goal saving pokecheck by Drew Doughty to deny Keith Tkachuk a quality shot just after Richardson left the ice.
The purpose of pointing this play out is to give credit to a play that would not normally get much, if any credit, to draw attention to Richardson for his smarts and for being a team player.
We hope you take notice of the little plays as well as the big plays. We love cheering alongside you when Anze Kopitar connects a beautiful pass to Smyth for an easy goal. We look forward sharing your sighs of relief when Quick slides like greased lighting across the crease to stone an eager and wide-open shooter.
When a player makes a little play with a big impact, we hope you will smile with us.