2014 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Two

Under Pressure: Brad Richards


“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 Chicago Blackhawks, we pick … Brad Richards

Brad Richards is probably used to pressure.

For years, he’s been making big money — stemming in part to his Conn Smythe run with the Tampa Bay Lightning — but largely because he’s often been one of the most prolific offensive players in the NHL. Either way, his consistently large checks (Cap Geek estimates his career earnings at $85.78 million) often meant that being a very good scorer, but rarely top-10, left people occasionally disappointed. If nothing else, he’s been in “prove it” mode, especially recently.

But in Chicago, he’ll face a different kind of pressure.

From “overpaid” to a bargain?

Following being bought out by the New York Rangers, the 34-year-old is now a low-risk, high-reward bargain at a $2 million cap hit. Any money-related questions will instead revolve around “can he make big money next summer?”

Instead, the bigger pressure will come from proving that he can cure what’s been ailing the Blackhawks in bad times and even some good times as well: not having a quality second-line center.

While there’s a chance that Teuvo Teravainen might grab the role he’s being groomedfor, the expectation is he’ll need to acclimate himself to the NHL game and should find himself in the AHL for at least portions of the 2014-15 season.

In other words, the Blackhawks would prefer that Richards can be their short-term second-line center. So what are the odds he pulls it off?

A lot rests on Coach Q

That’s a tough call. If you can set aside Richards’ rather disconcerting work in the last postseason or two, he at least put up the kind of boxcar numbers you hope for; he scored a very nice 20 goals and 51 points for the Rangers last season. Anything in the realm of that production would be great for Chicago, especially since a second-line gig could mean working with some combination of Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane and so on.

Most signs point to Richards needing to be sheltered, though, which makes the argument that it’s imperative to put him with a guy who gets a lot of offensive zone starts in Kane (both were in the top five in easiest zone starts last season). While Richards’ possession stats look very good in the regular season — and glaringly worse in basically every measurable way during the postseason, for whatever reason — he also played what seemed like an offense-only role that might limit his versatility if his skills really are declining as much as it appeared at times during the Rangers’ deep run.

The burning question

It’s weird to imagine a guy taking a cut in salary as someone who might be a scapegoat, but Richards lands into a situation that could be lucrative … unless he just doesn’t “have it” anymore.

Basically, if he thrives, he can make a lot of money and maybe even win a second Stanley Cup. If he flounders, Richards could find himself as someone facing blame if Chicago gets eaten alive when he’s on the ice during the postseason.

With all that in mind, there’s a lot riding on the 2014-15 season for Richards, even if the potential spoils of victory would come in about a year or so.

‘It’s absolutely not true’ — Lemieux denies report of ‘big falling out’ with Crosby

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - OCTOBER 5:  Sidney Crosby #87 and Mario Lemieux #66 of the Pittsburgh Penguins share a few words during a break in action against the New Jersey Devils in their NHL opening night game at the Continental Airlines Arena on October 5, 2005 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  The Devils won 5-1. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Well, that didn’t take long.

Just hours after Matthew Barnaby went on the radio and said he’d heard that Sidney Crosby and Mario Lemieux had had a “big falling out,” Lemieux came out and denied it.

“It’s absolutely not true,” said Lemieux, per the club’s Twitter account. “It’s silly.”

Today marked the second time in less than two weeks that the Penguins have been forced do some damage control.

Last week, the Penguins insisted that they weren’t actually “mad at each other,” as Evgeni Malkin had put it after a bad loss to New Jersey.

“He did not mean we are mad at each other,” said Crosby. “He meant we are frustrated.”

Matthew Barnaby has heard that Crosby and Lemieux had a ‘big falling out’

Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel

Every day there seems to be another “thing” about the Pittsburgh Penguins.

We say “thing,” because we’re not really sure how to categorize it. It’s never anything concrete. It’s smoke, without definitive proof of a fire.

But whether it’s Evgeni Malkin saying the Penguins are “mad at each other”…or Guy Lafleur wondering if Sidney Crosby should try and find a new team…or a prominent NHL reporter like Elliotte Friedman talking about the “very tense environment” in the organization…

The clear insinuation is that all is not well in Pittsburgh.

The latest “thing”?

Ex-Penguin Matthew Barnaby has “looked into it” and what’s he’s heard is that Crosby and co-owner Mario Lemieux have had a “big falling out.”

“Now whether that pushes them to move him at some point? Whether he wants to move? That I don’t know,” Barnaby said today on SiriusXM, via Puck Daddy.

Again, it’s all just scuttlebutt at this point. After Malkin’s “mad at each other” remark, the players insisted that that wasn’t true. Malkin said he didn’t mean it that way.

So choose for yourself what to believe.

But despite the winning record, unless this team starts playing the way it was designed to play — i.e. scoring a lot of goals, not the 26th-most in the NHL — don’t be surprised if you hear more “things.”

The Penguins host St. Louis tonight.

Goalie nods: Marquee matchup as Price faces Lundqvist at MSG

Henrik Lundqvist
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Two of the NHL’s premier netminders will do battle tonight in New York, when Carey Price and the Canadiens visit Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers.

Price, who’s played a pair of games since missing extended time with a lower-body injury, has won both of his starts and is now 9-2-0 on the year with a 2.10 GAA and .933 save percentage.

Great numbers, but nothing compared to the King.

Lundqvist — probably this year’s Vezina front-runner, after Price won last season — is a sparking 12-3-2 with a 1.74 GAA and .946 save percentage, posting shutouts in two of his last six starts.

One of those shutouts came in his last outing, a 31-save blanking of the Preds on Monday.

Now… with all that hype, we should tap the brakes. The last time PHT previewed a “goalie duel” was when Lundqvist and St. Louis’ Jake Allen engaged in a battle of the NHL’s two highest save percentages.

The Blues and Rangers then combined for nine goals, with Allen getting the hook 15 minutes into the contest.


Carter Hutton appears ready to give Pekka Rinne a night off in Buffalo, while the Sabres are going with Linus Ullmark once again.

Ryan Miller takes on Devan Dubnyk as the Canucks play in Minnesota.

Anders Nilsson will keep Cam Talbot bolted to the pine when Edmonton faces the ‘Canes. Cam Ward looks likely to go for Carolina.

Michael Hutchinson, not Connor Hellebuyck, for the Jets in Washington. The Caps will start Braden Holtby.

— Another good matchup in Pittsburgh, as Jake Allen and the Blues take on Marc-Andre Fleury and the Penguins.

Sergei Bobrovsky goes for the Jackets tonight, while the Devils counter with Cory Schneider.

— In Brooklyn, Jaroslav Halak starts for the Islanders. The visiting Flyers will go with their No. 1, Steve Mason.

— Sounds like Jonas Gustavsson will go up against his former team when the Bruins take on the Red Wings in Detroit. He’ll square off against Petr Mrazek.

Mike Smith returns from a lower-body injury to get the nod for Arizona. Hard to say what the Ducks are going to do: Frederik Andersen has the flu, Anton Khudobin got yanked last night against Calgary, and John Gibson came on in relief for the win.

Craig Anderson for Ottawa tonight, Semyon Varlamov for Colorado.

Martin Jones, the NHL’s reigning first star of the week, is in for the Sharks against the visiting Blackhawks. Corey Crawford counters for Chicago.

Stars’ Lehtonen (upper body) day-to-day

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The collision that forced Kari Lehtonen from his relief appearance in last night’s loss to Ottawa could keep him off ice four a couple of days, Stars head coach Lindy Ruff confirmed.

Lehtonen, who entered the contest after Antti Niemi allowed three goals on nine shots, was injured just over a minute into the third period when d-man John Klingberg crashed into the Dallas net.

Ruff suggested a goalie would be recalled from AHL Texas in time for the Stars’ next game, which is on Friday against the Canucks.

While losing Lehtonen would hurt the Stars — he’s 9-1-0 this year with a .921 save percentage and 2.41 GAA — the club can fall back on Niemi who, despite the rough outing against the Sens, has been OK this year.

Niemi has a 8-4-1 record, though his GAA (.264) and save percentage (.907) leave something to be desired.