Lightning coach John Tortorella gave Brad Richards something to think about over Christmas break.
Between periods of the Dec. 23 game in Boston, the same game in which Vinny Lecavalier was benched, Tortorella gave Richards a raw and honest critique of his effort punctuated by a video clip of what Richards called an "embarrassing" play.
"He just wanted to send a message, and I got it loud and clear," the center said Saturday. "He was very honest and got in my face and told me straight up. I knew I was better than that. When I went home for Christmas, I realized it was time to do more."
In 15 games entering Saturday's with the Flames, Richards has five goals and nine assists and scored the winner in Thursday's 3-2 victory over the Oilers. He had nine goals, 24 assists for the season.
"I just feel way more comfortable on the ice," Richards said. "It's just a lot more fun. And it's not just scoring goals. I'm doing more defensively and on the penalty kill. I've been in some key situations and I love doing that. I relish it. But the way I was playing before, I just wasn't doing those things."
Before his breakout, Richards had one goal in 17 games.
"I realized that I could do more out there," Richards said. "The goals were going to come. But I eventually figured out winning the little battles and doing the other stuff came with it. Shots are going in now that didn't go in before. Things are going in that normally wouldn't because I'm doing the little things better."
Tortorella said Richards took the brutally honest meeting in Boston "like a pro.
"Since then he has brought his game up another level. He has done the little things to get him producing again. But we still need him at another level."
VINNY AND TORTS: Who said Tortorella and Lecavalier can't work together? The two and associate coach Craig Ramsay recently critiqued video of Lecavalier, and the center said it sparked his game.
"Very productive," Lecavalier said.
"It's a level of maturity he accepted that and showed that he learned from it," Tortorella said.
Lecavalier had a goal, an assist and seven shots against the Oilers in what Tortorella said was Lecavalier's "best game of the year."
Tortorella said he picked the video clips that showed Lecavalier failing to shoot and not moving his feet while skating.
"When you look at video from a different angle, you see that maybe you have more time to make plays and be patient with the puck," said Lecavalier, who had five goals in his previous 34 games. "When you're on the ice, everything is so fast. You have more time than you think."
"It's funny," Tortorella said, "when you see his legs moving and he's taking shots, you don't see those turnovers. Now he has to come back and do it again and again and again, and he has the ability to do that."
WHERE'S SVITOV: Since being recalled from AHL Hamilton on Jan. 14, Alexander Svitov has been a healthy scratch in six consecutive games. Tortorella said Svitov hasn't done anything wrong. The team is just playing well.
"I'm not forcing him into the lineup," Tortorella said. "If somebody is struggling or we feel we need to make a change, we'll do that. But that doesn't automatically put Alex into the lineup. I have Andre Roy champing at the bit to play."
Roy has been scratched for 10 consecutive games.
"This is all part of the process for the kid," Tortorella said. "We evaluate daily, and we are happy with the way this team is playing right now. We think everybody is contributing. That's where we're at."
ODDS AND ENDS: Cory Sarich of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, had to get tickets for family and friends in Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary. Asked how many tickets he needed Saturday, he joked, "Too many." Defenseman Darren Rumble was scratched.
_ DAMIAN CRISTODERO