Whatever the Kings decide with Richards, they’re ‘going to have to play better’

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Darryl Sutter still thinks Mike Richards can be a good NHL player, and he’s frustrated by the media coverage of the Kings’ decision to place the 29-year-old center on waivers.

“This is hockey, and some of you guys don’t get it, period,” the coach told reporters today, per LA Kings Insider. “Lots of players go on waivers and lots of players clear waivers, and lots of players still have great years in front of them.

“It’s just that there are people in the media who continue to want to beat people up because they can’t do it themselves. It’s frustrating. I think Mike’s still got lots of hockey left.”

Whatever the team decides to do with Richards, both in the short- and long-term, the Kings, to most everyone’s surprise, find themselves outside the playoff picture heading into Wednesday’s home game versus Chicago, after which they’ll head out on a tough, five-game road trip with stops in Boston, Washington, Florida, Tampa Bay, and Columbus.

All-Star forward Anze Kopitar was asked this weekend to pinpoint why the defending champions had such a modest record (20-15-12) after 47 games.

“I don’t think you can pinpoint,” he said. “We’ve played a lot of hockey the last few years. Maybe there was a little bit of a fatigue factor. But we’re all professionals. We’ve got to get ready for each and every game.”

The statistic that really stands out about this season’s Kings is their goals-against average. At 2.53, it’s only the 13th-lowest in the NHL. Last season, it finished at 2.05, better than everyone.

Blame the goaltenders. Blame the players in front of the goalies for not being in a “checking mood” often enough. Blame the absence of Slava Voynov, or the departure of Willie Mitchell. Blame the shootout. Blame fatigue. The fact is, no defending champion since the 2006-07 Carolina Hurricanes has missed the playoffs, and the Kings would like to keep it that way.

“I think we’re one point out of a playoff spot,” said Kopitar. “That’s encouraging. And we realize we’re going to have to play better the second half of the year. We have a pretty long road trip coming up, and this is a good time to get going and turn things around.”

Related: Mike Richards clears waivers