Former Kings Justin Williams, Mike Richards have found homes with the Capitals
Justin Williams made a joking vow with then-teammate Kings defenseman Drew Doughty about what would have to happen if they landed on opposing sides.
“I remember telling Doughty about four years ago, whenever I get dealt out of here, Drew and I gotta get a fight,” Williams said, chuckling, the other day in a telephone interview. “I told him to get his gloves ready. He’s going to have to drop ‘em with me.”
Doughty’s mood was not bright after the Kings’ 1-0 loss to the New Jersey Devils on Sunday, but he cheered up when reminded about what Williams said. He laughed and said Williams would have to be the instigator.
“We always used to joke about that,” Doughty said. “He would always take my side. Everyone always likes to say I’m not the best fighter or whatever, and Justin would always say, ‘Dewey, I think you’d beat the guy up.’”
Williams, a member of the Kings’ two Stanley Cup championship teams, was not traded away but he signed with the Washington Capitals in July as an unrestricted free agent.
This will be his first game against his friends and former teammates, as it will be for Capitals center Mike Richards, who landed in Washington several months after the Kings terminated his contract.
Richards looked relaxed and happy in his new setting, talking after practice Monday. His legal case — an arrest at the Canadian border in June, resulting in a charge of possession of a controlled substance (oxycodone) — is still pending after multiple court delays.
He has played in 11 games with the Capitals, a fourth-line role with some penalty-killing duties mixed in. Capitals Coach Barry Trotz, in a phone interview, lauded the “hockey IQ” of Richards and noted how he was able to nudge the Philadelphia Flyers’ Claude Giroux off his game in a recent meeting.
“I was surprised. I thought off the start that my legs would be slow to get going, and I’d be making plays,” said Richards, who has no points in the 11 games. “But my legs feel great pretty much every game. Just making plays, I was struggling early. Now I’m starting to make plays and hold on to the puck more.”
Richards said it was difficult to explain the nature of Tuesday’s game against his former teammates, the guys he won Stanley Cups with in 2012 and 2014. He said in a recent interview with Capitals beat reporters that he didn’t hold any grudges against the Kings’ organization and accepted some responsibility for the way things unfolded.
On Monday, Richards said he had received a message from Kings Coach Darryl Sutter a few months ago and seemed gratified by Sutter’s continued support.
“I don’t think it’s going to be hard,” Richards said. “It’ll be different. I don’t know what it is. It’s a unique feeling, something different playing against your friends.
“It would be nice to win. The competitive nature — it doesn’t matter what you’re doing against friends, playing cards on the plane, you want to win.”
Richards, added, smiling: “Just try not to pass to the wrong team tomorrow. It’ll be all right.”
Losses have been rare for the Capitals. They are 40-10-4; they dropped their first game since Feb. 6 in a loss to Dallas on Saturday, halting a five-game winning streak. They occupy first place in the NHL.
Williams was brought in for his goal-scoring abilities and his impressive playoff resume: two Cups with the Kings and another with the Carolina Hurricanes.
Said Trotz: “He came in with a lot of street credibility.”
After an initial adjustment period, Williams has fit in almost seamlessly with his new teammates. He has 18 goals and 38 points in 54 games.
“Whenever you come to a new team, no matter how old you are, you’re nervous and you want to make a good impression,” he said. “You don’t want to rub anyone the wrong way.”
When the Kings missed the playoffs, Williams kept a close eye on the Capitals’ postseason run. Contract negotiations also were not progressing with the Kings.
“In the summer, the way free agency went, I realized how tight teams were with spending money,” he said. “The most important thing to me was finding a place where my family would be happy and I’d be on a great team that would be contending.”
Said Trotz: “What I like about Justin, he’s a very productive player, but he says the right things at the right time.”
Williams admitted it will be an “emotional game,” against the Kings. But he’s used to playing against former teammates. He started his career in Philadelphia before getting traded to Carolina. The Hurricanes then moved him to the Kings in 2009, one of the early major deals pulled off by Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi.
For Williams, one potential concern about the move quickly disappeared. Williams has a daughter and a son, and his boy, Jaxon, was a familiar face at the Kings’ practice facility.
Williams had worried about the impact of the move on his 7-year-old, hockey-playing son.
“Jax, he’s like the most loyal son I’ve ever seen,” Williams said. “I wasn’t quite sure how he was going to handle it, coming to Washington. I told him, ‘Daddy is going to play in Washington for the Capitals next year.’ He was just like, ‘All right, get rid of my socks. Get rid of this T-shirt, I don’t want it anymore. Get rid of this Kings stuff. We’re Capitals.’
“I was blown away. I expected him to be upset. He was excited. He was the exact opposite. He was the most loyal son and that made the transition easy.”
KINGS AT WASHINGTON CAPITALS
When: Tuesday, 4 p.m. PST
On the air: TV: FS West; Radio: 790.
Update: The Kings had a recovery day and were not on the ice Monday. But Sutter said, via email, that injured forward Marian Gaborik would be out “long term, for sure,” adding that they hoped to get him back for the playoffs. Gaborik suffered a knee injury in the first period against the New York Rangers on Friday and returned to Los Angeles for further evaluation.
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