Los Angeles Kings coach Darryl Sutter ruled out centre Mike Richards for Tuesday night’s third game of the NHL’s Western Conference final against the Chicago Blackhawks, leaving the defending Stanley Cup champions without their leading scorer for a game that could make-or-break their season.
Richards is out with a suspected concussion.
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Sutter said that if the decision were up to Richards, the veteran would have elected to play.
“You’ve got guys who want to play and guys who don’t want to play,” said Sutter. “Mike Richards wants to play.”
Sutter went on to say of Richards: “He’s done a little bit every day, but it’s still the same. No progress.”
Richards missed a big chunk of last season recovering from a concussion after taking a hit from the Florida Panthers' Sean Bergenheim.
The Kings trail the best-of-seven series 2-0, but have a 14-game home-ice winning streak on the line at Staples Centre. Because Richards can’t go, the Kings will stick with a revamped second line featuring Jeff Carter playing centre between Dustin Penner and rookie Tyler Toffoli.
Toffoli was a mid-season call-up, who’d been lighting it up for the Kings’ minor-league affiliate in Monarch.
Carter is a natural centre and thus the transition wasn’t too difficult. The line accounted for both goals in Sunday night’s 4-2 defeat. Richards was thought to be a go for that game after taking a hit from Chicago’s Dave Bolland in the opener, but his symptoms surfaced in the warm-up and he was an 11th hour scratch.
“Quite honest, when Richards and Carter play together, they pretty much interchange depending upon who you’re playing and who’s taking face-offs and how you come back in your own zone,” said Sutter. "Jeff doesn't have a problem with that either. We've done it off and on during the year. When Mike was struggling earlier in the year we split 'em up, in fact we did it against Chicago. They both can play centre. Jeff Carter is a pretty good player at either position."
Ultimately, Toffoli will figure more largely in the Kings’ plans next year and in the years to come. For an offensively challenged team, he has been a pure sniper throughout his career – and shows signs of being able to translate those skills at the NHL level, which is never a sure thing as players move along the development path.
“I don't think I change a whole lot,” said Toffoli. “I'm just trying to create some offence, shoot the puck, get chances. I need to bring energy and work as hard as I can.”
Of Toffoli, Sutter said: "I just think he's a good player. This is not an easy environment to put him in. 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."
As for the match-up in goal, Sutter issued a challenge of sorts to goaltender Jonathan Quick, who was spectacular through the first two rounds, but gave up four goals for the first time in 35 playoff games in the loss to the Blackhawks Sunday.
"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."