Kings: Richardson steps in and delivers the goods

LOS ANGELES — Brad Richardson woke up Saturday morning expecting to be back in his familiar role, anchoring the fourth line with the tenaciousness of a pit bull. Then the unexpected occurred. Marco Sturm was claimed off waivers by the Washington Capitals, leaving the Kings without their choice to play left wing on the top line against the Colorado Avalanche.

Richardson, a natural center, was given a rare opportunity to be the co-pilot alongside first-line center Anze Kopitar. For one afternoon, he played like the left wing the Kings so desperately need heading into Monday’s trade deadline.

Playing in his 300th game in a Kings uniform, Richardson assisted on the first goal of the game, which turned out to be the winner in the 4-3 victory against the Avalanche at Staples Center.

“I’ve been in that situation a few times this year and last season,” Richardson said of his chance to play on the top line. “It was definitely a lot of fun, and I thought we had a good game out there.”

His contributions didn’t end with his eighth assist of the season. Throughout the game, Richardson wasn’t so much of a fly in the ointment for the Avalanche, but a mosquito in their ear.

“He’s relentless,” said Wayne Simmonds, who was Richardson’s wingmate against Colorado. “He’s great with the puck. He makes a lot of little plays that you don’t really notice.”

Richardson’s speed and energy have always been one of his best attributes. At 5 feet 11 and 185 pounds, he plays much bigger than his size and has proto-type checking-line skills.

But he has proved to be more than a pest against Colorado in the past, notching a hat trick in a 6-4 victory on Oct. 23 and scoring another goal in a 5-0 victory against the Avalanche on Dec. 21. Against the rest of the league, he has two goals this season.

He showed great awareness on the first goal Saturday afternoon. Simmonds dumped the puck into the offensive zone and then chased after it, forcing a Colorado defender to pinch Simmonds against the boards. Before the contact, Simmonds was able to direct the puck in Richardson’s direction and he spun out from behind the Colorado goal and shot it off the chest of recently acquired goalie Brian Elliott, giving Kopitar a chance to put the rebound in the net.

“I chipped it in and I saw [Richardson] coming behind the net,” Simmonds said. “I heard him yelling so I kind of just tried to direct it his way. He’s a fast guy, picked up the puck, came right out front and Kopi was there on the rebound.”

The Kings will likely continue their search for a high-scoring forward in the next two days, but if they come up short, they know they can count on Richardson to fill some of the void.

“He’s a great skater, he has great intensity and he was a good player for us tonight," coach Terry Murray said.