Mike Richards

Under Pressure: Mike Richards

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“Under Pressure” is a preseason series we’ll be running on PHT. For each team in the NHL, we’ll pick one player, coach, GM, mascot or whatever that everyone will be watching closely this season. Feel free to play the song as you read along. Also feel free to go to the comment section and tell us we picked poorly.

For the Los Angeles Kings, we pick … center Mike Richards.

Sometimes a player is judged based on more than just the goals, assists and points he puts up. Even beyond the simplest numbers, there are facts and figures that matter more and more when it comes to forming opinions, and few things can drive feedback down quite like an athlete whose play doesn’t seem to match his pay. Much like Roberto Luongo (during his time with Vancouver in particular), Richards’ contract carries an expensive price tag ($5.75 million per season for a guy seemingly penciled-in for the third line?) and scary term (the deal expires after 2019-20), thus inspiring terms like “anchor” and “albatross.”

The defending champions are designed so near-immaculately that the 29-year-old’s deal sticks out like a sore thumb; add that to the a rejected opportunity to get out of it and every underwhelming Richards shift will only frustrate a subset of fans that much more.

With all apologies to Jonathan Quick (the other Kings player with a polarizing contract) and Justin Williams (a guy who might get squeezed out after this upcoming contract year), Richards is an easy choice for this feature.

The uncomfortable thing is that he’s highly unlikely to impress anyone expecting the 70+ point production of his peak years in 2007-08 (75 points) and 2008-09 (80). Really, his best chance of appeasing anyone is to appeal to hardcore fans and/or those who are more likely to empathize with his challenging situation.

Ideally, he can at least be more of an asset as a defensive forward with some upside. As this intensive study at Jewels from the Crown shows, his underlying numbers aren’t as bad as you might think when placed in the proper perspective, so maybe it’s a matter of adjusting expectations.

People forget that the Kings would have to pay Richards plus another player to take his place, so a buyout isn’t as cut-and-dried as it may seem. Still, it’s simply more fun to hammer on this situation in the simplest of terms.

As far as his team is concerned, Richards can be useful if he ups his offensive production a bit and continues to carry a heavy defensive workload for the Kings. Will he be valuable enough to justify that $5.75 million? It’s difficult to imagine such a scenario, which might miss the point.

That said, more than a few people will expect more than what Richards is probably capable of providing, so expect him to be in some high-pressure situations next season.

Penguins ride Murray’s masterpiece to 2-1 series lead vs. Capitals

Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Matt Murray (30) deflects a puck over the net during the first period of Game 3 against the Washington Capitals in an NHL hockey Stanley Cup Eastern Conference semifinals in Pittsburgh, Monday, May 2, 2016. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
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If Marc-Andre Fleury suiting up bothers Matt Murray, then the rookie goalie channeled those feelings into a masterful performance on Monday.

The Washington Capitals absolutely dominated Game 3, but Murray was even better, stopping 47 shots as the Penguins stole one 3-2 to take a 2-1 series lead.

(Capitals fans might see some parallels to Washington’s Game 5 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers; they fell 2-0 despite a 44-11 shots on goal edge thanks to Michal Neuvirth‘s heroics.)

Murray stopped chance after chance before Alex Ovechkin finally broke through for his first goal of this series. Justin Williams then brought the Penguins’ lead down to 3-2 to make for a hold-your-breath final minute.

A driven Ovechkin and strong overall play from the Capitals (despite this defeat) aren’t the only reasons why Game 4 might present some twists.

First things first: Kris Letang might get suspended for Game 4 (if not for more than one game) thanks to this controversial check on Marcus Johansson.

Beyond that, there could be some bumps and bruises from this contest.

Bryan Rust left during the first period and didn’t return to the game after blocking a shot. Brian Dumoulin seemed shaken up after an Alex Ovechkin hit in the third period. The Capitals might have a player or two to look at, as well.

In other words, the Penguins could really lack for quality defensemen with Letang possibly suspended and possible injury absences for Dumoulin and Olli Maatta.

This series is living up to the hype … and really building up the hate.

Yes, NHL is reportedly looking at Letang’s hit on Johansson

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It remains to be seen if Kris Letang will get suspended for his hit on Marcus Johansson … and if he does, for how long.

(You can read initial reactions and some analysis about the specifics of the check vs. the one that got Brooks Orpik suspended here.)

There are a few things we do know already.

For one thing, the NHL’s Department of Player Safety is reportedly looking into it.

Another factor that could help Letang avoid a suspension or limit the duration of supplemental discipline: Marcus Johansson returned during the second period.

In fact, Johansson delivered some hits on Letang.

There have been some nasty moments in Game 3, and more might be coming. The Penguins lead 2-0 with a few minutes remaining in the middle frame.

Kris Letang may face suspension for hit on Marcus Johansson

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Update: Reports indicate that the NHL’s Department of Player Safety is indeed looking into the hit.

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As thrilling as this Pittsburgh Penguins – Washington Capitals series has been, it seems like every game presents another controversial hit.

Game 3’s most noteworthy entry (so far?) came when Kris Letang was whistled for interference on Marcus Johansson.

Penguins fans griped that Brooks Orpik didn’t get a major penalty for his hit on Olli Maatta … now Capitals fans likely feel the same about the check Letang delivered.

Watch it in the video above. Also, Stefanie “My Regular Face” has it in GIF form:

Things could get ugly in Game 3:

One factor in a suspension happening – or at least the duration of the suspension – would be what the point of contact was:

Also, lateness of the check:

The Penguins ended the first period up 2-0 against the Capitals, even though Washington played one of its best 20 minutes of the series. Expect more drama.

Fleury suits up (but won’t start) and other Caps – Pens Game 3 notes

Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who has been out of action with concussion symptoms, participates in a practice session for the NHL hockey playoffs against the New York Rangers, Monday, April 11, 2016, at their practice facility in Cranberry, Pa. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
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The Brooks Orpik hit on Olli Maatta isn’t the only factor in lineup changes for Game 3 between the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins.

Maybe the most interesting change starts on the Penguins’ bench … where they likely hope that tweak will stay for at least one night.

Marc-Andre Fleury is apparently healthy enough to suit up for the Penguins, although it appears as though Matt Murray will start:

That’s a clear sign that “The Flower” is healthy enough to play, as Murray would be an injury or a coach’s pull away from giving up the net to Fleury. (One would assume.)

Murray has been fantastic for the most part since taking over for Jeff Zatkoff during this postseason, yet you know how the playoffs can be; people may clamor for Fleury after a loss even if it’s not really Murray’s fault.

Circling back to that Orpik hit, the dominoes seem to fall this way:

Penguins: Derrick Pouliot replaces injured Maatta.

Capitals: Dmitry Orlov in for suspended Orpik.

PHT will make note if there are any swerves.