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Kings' Mike Richards rolls with rolling with the fourth line

SportsLos Angeles KingsNHLMike RichardsTrevor LewisKyle CliffordVancouver Canucks

CALGARY, Canada — The numbers are quite close to his point total two years ago, then considered a downward trend for a big-name center.

At least there was a tangible reason for the Kings' center Mike Richards' recording 44 points in 74 games in 2011-12. He missed most of December of that season because of a concussion, probably came back too quickly and didn't really find his form until he dominated the likes of the Vancouver Canucks' Ryan Kesler in the opening round of the playoffs.

And now?

Richards has 11 goals and 41 points in 79 games this season. There hasn't been a significant injury, such as the ones you hear about much later, via a one-paragraph release in the summer.

Instead, it started with an off-ice illness in December that Richards said affected his conditioning.

"After being sick, I kind of got out of shape, not playing a lot," said Richards in an interview last week. "It probably took me a couple of weeks to realize that. That's when I started getting back on the bike and doing things."

There were times after the Olympic break when there was an uptick in his game but the biggest move came the day before a game against visiting Florida on March 21. Kings Coach Darryl Sutter demoted him to the fourth line, having Richards center hard-working wingers Kyle Clifford and Trevor Lewis.

To be sure, there aren't many fourth-line centers in the middle of a 12-year, $69-million contract, but Richards responded by scoring twice in the next three games and connecting well with Clifford and Lewis.

"On another team, it might be a bit of a shock," Richards said. "But here we roll four lines as well as anyone in the league. Even on the fourth line [against Minnesota], I played 18 minutes. I think it was 15 and 17 the game before. It's not like you're losing a lot of minutes.

"On any other team, it's four, five, six, seven minutes [on the fourth line]. It's not too bad and I like playing with Trevor and Kyle. You almost have to pull back a little bit because they're so eager to get in on the forecheck, get in there. They're extremely easy to play off with because you don't have to read off them because they're always in the right positions."

Richards is not exactly a speed merchant by the standards of the new NHL. By placing him down the depth chart, he more often than not would face slower defense pairs.

Lines, of course, aren't always chiseled in stone. Richards was with his old linemate, Jeff Carter, and youngster Tyler Toffoli in Saturday's 2-1 loss to the Canucks but has been back with Lewis and Clifford this week at practice.

With three relatively meaningless regular-season games remaining on the schedule, it could offer Sutter a chance to tinker a bit more before the playoffs.

Traditionally, Richards has played his best hockey when it matters the most — in the playoffs and at the Olympics for Team Canada in 2010 when it won gold.

Lewis has liked the fit with Richards. He has six goals and 11 points this season, and the six goals are a career high. Lewis agreed to a two-year contract extension Tuesday, averaging $1.525 million per year.

"He's such a smart player," said Lewis. "With me and Cliffy — we're kind of hard workers — we've got to get in, get pucks and get pucks to him and find ways to get open because he can find you pretty much anywhere.

"He's helped a lot. He's always talking out there. Like I said, if you just find little ways to get open, he'll get you the puck somehow. And he's really smart defensively."

WEDNESDAY

AT CALGARY

When: 7.

On the air: TV: KCOP . Radio: 1150.

Etc.: Two of the injured Kings, forward Dwight King and defenseman Drew Doughty, are on this two-game trip to Alberta, a positive development. Who would have thought that former Kings forward Michael Cammalleri would still be in Calgary in April? The man most likely to be traded at the deadline stayed put, and is leading the Flames with 26 goals in 62 games. Calgary is on a three-game winning streak.

lisa.dillman@latimes.com

Twitter: @reallisa

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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SportsLos Angeles KingsNHLMike RichardsTrevor LewisKyle CliffordVancouver Canucks
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