In what could be an elimination game at Madison Square Garden against the Bruins on Thursday night, Rangers coach John Tortorella has shaken up his lineup by benching struggling veteran Brad Richards.
Tortorella also is replacing injured defenseman Anton Stralman with Roman Hamrlik, and apparently will insert one of the little-used forwards Micheal Haley and Kris Newbury for Arron Asham.
Richards, who was not been a healthy scratch as a Ranger, and apparently not when Tortorella was his coach in Tampa from 2001-08, was informed by Tortorella in a phone call Thursday morning.
”I don’t know if surprise is the word,” Richards said after the morning skate. “Disappointed. Nothing’s over till it’s over...(I'll) work hard to makes sure it never happens again.”
Tortorella has regularly reduced the ice time of the 33-year-old Richards, the top free-agent forward available in the summer of 2011. Richards has struggled with the pace of the game this year. There has been widespread speculation that Richards, who is owed $36 million through 2019-20, is a candidate for a buyout this summer or next.
Richards, who had 11 goals and 34 points this season, has been reduced to playing fourth-line center, and getting some time on the power play, which has been ineffective. He played just 8:10 in Game 3, had one shot and was a minus-1.
Tortorella would not provide any updates, but Hamrlik, 39, who has not played since April 1, said after he left the optional morning skate: “I know I haven’t played in a long time….but I’ve been in the league a long time, I should know what to do.”
Asham said he hadn’t been told whether he would play. He remained on the ice late with Richards, Darroll Powe and rookie Chris Kreider, who was hit in the face with a stick in the third period of Game 3 and did not return. It seems as if Kreider will dress, although nothing is official. Powe said he was not playing.
Ryane Clowe, who hasn’t played since Game 4 of the Washington series with a suspected concussion, left the ice early. He did not come into the main dressing room to speak to the media, and he too, could be an option, although unlikely, because he has not gone through a full practice.