Kings face steep climb without Richards
June, 4, 2013
By Pierre LeBrun | ESPN.com
LOS ANGELES -- L.A. Kings coach Darryl Sutter confirmed Mike Richards is ruled out for Game 3 Tuesday night, an incredibly difficult pill for the Kings to swallow as they try to climb out of a 2-0 series deficit in the Western Conference finals.
"It’s going to be tough, that’s it. You have to band together. Nobody is going to replace him by himself," veteran blueliner Matt Greene said after the Tuesday morning skate at Staples Center. "Hopefully, guys can chip in, get minutes together and give us a game."
Richards influences nearly every facet of L.A.’s game, from special teams to key faceoffs to late-game shifts; he does it all. He also leads the team in playoff scoring with 10 points (two goals, eight assists).
"It doesn't change anything for us," said star center Anze Kopitar. "We still have to play the same way. Do we miss Mike? Of course. He's one of the best players at this time of the year and he's a big asset on our power play, penalty kill, faceoffs, you name it. We definitely miss him but we can't look for him now. We know he's not going to be going and we've just got to do it with what we got."
Just as in Game 2, Jeff Carter will take Richards’ spot at center on that line, skating between Dustin Penner and rookie Tyler Toffoli (who might have been the Kings’ best player in Game 2, picking up a goal and an assist).
"Well, the first thing, Jeff can play center; otherwise we'd be in a real tough spot," Sutter said Tuesday morning. "It's not really what Tyler brings to that line, it's being able to have a top guy move from wing to the center position."
Carter actually came up from junior hockey as a center and has played the pivot position occasionally in the NHL, but has mostly been a winger in the pros.
"When Mike was struggling earlier in the year, we split them up. In fact, we did it against Chicago," said Sutter. "They both can play center. Jeff Carter is a pretty good player at either position."
Kopitar said it was a nice luxury to have a guy like Carter who can play both positions.
"Jeff is a strong skater, so it definitely helps him being in the middle and having a little bit more of free range," said Kopitar. "Tyler is great at making plays off the walls and cutting inside and shooting the puck. It's a good combo."
Toffoli gets another chance to showcase his ability, having appeared in nine playoff games so far (two goals, two assists). The 21-year-old winger was the AHL Rookie of the Year this season, and it’s clear he has a strong future here as a top-six forward in L.A.
"He scored 50-some goals in his last year in junior and 19 goals in his rookie year in the American League; he played 60-something games," said Sutter. "We brought him up when we had the roster spot to do it, not so much to play him but because we thought he was close, so he could watch and sort of progress. That's all it is. He has the skill set to do it. The next part is the mental skills."
In a perfect world, if the Kings hadn't suffered all these injuries in the playoffs, Toffoli likely would not have been forced into this spot, but rather would start fresh next season and gradually work his way into the lineup.
"This is not an easy environment to put him in," said Sutter. "You wish you could have done it differently, but this will be good in the experience, development part of it, and then going into next training camp part and trying to make the team part."
The pressure is on Kings star goalie Jonathan Quick to rebound in Game 3 after being pulled in Game 2.
"He's a great competitor and that's what you want out of your guys, out of your goalie, whatever the case may be," said Kopitar. "We have all the confidence in him that he's going to do it again."
Quick had been sensational in the playoffs until Sunday night, when he gave up four goals, the one from Brent Seabrook in particular being a tough one.
"There's been enough talk about Jonathan Quick this season," said Sutter. "We need a big game out of him. You're not going to give up four goals and beat Chicago."
The Kings can do their part in front of him, too.
"Just limit the chances, really, and play with the puck a little more than we did," said Kopitar. "There's no secret to it, but we've gotta do a better job."