IF YOU HAVE EVER coached a little-kids soccer team, you know that you spend about 85 percent of the time yelling two words: "Spread out!" (The other 15 percent of the time is spent making sure somebody brought the oranges.)

Before every practice, you put the kids in positions, mostly based upon whim or rotation or whatever. But if you ever do any reading on the subject, you will find a body of opinion that says the thing to do with little kids is not assign them to a position at all. Rather, you just throw them out there and allow their instincts to take over. The nature of some kids will be to attack and take chances. Others will hang back and play with caution, worried about protecting the goal. In that way, they will themselves identify the positions for which they are best suited.

It is a good theory. Nobody actually does it, of course, but it makes sense.

Now, granted, all of this is a roundabout way to begin a discussion of the Flyers' Mike Richards. Because while the Stanley Cup playoffs could not be more different than kids soccer, the same self-selection process seems to take place - and there are certain players on certain teams who are given (or take) the job of being the responsible one, the player who sublimates his ego and accepts the exhausting role of neutering whoever is on the ice against him - even if it means that his offense can flourish only sometimes, only in counterattacking bursts.

It happens every spring. It is happening with Richards again.

We are only two games into the Flyers-Sabres series, and nothing is close to being resolved. They have played two games and neither, frankly, has made a lot of sense. The Flyers played great in Game 1, but they couldn't score a goal and lost. Game 2 was a fierce circus in which the Flyers had to pull goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky after he allowed three goals on seven shots, but they won.

Good luck finding many discernible patterns so far. Except for this: Richards again has taken on the role of the two-way playoff centerman in a way that none of his teammates really can or will.

The Sabres have scored five goals in the series. Richards has been on the ice for none of them.

Best as I can tell, in two games, Richards has been on the ice for a total of 11 Buffalo shots on goal. Four of them were complete no-hopers, and eight of the 11 were from outside of 35 feet and not a lot of trouble. The other three could likely be classified as scoring chances: two by the Sabres' speedy Tyler Ennis and one by Thomas Vanek.

And that's it. Three chances in 38 minutes.