The Dallas Stars nifty center has been among the NHL’s assist leaders all season but the longer his career-long goal-scoring drought continued, it was clear he was beginning to press a bit lately, just missing a couple of golden chances.
So it appeared that a gigantic weight was lifted off his shoulders when he scored his first two goals of the year Thursday night in dramatic fashion - first equalizing the contest with just 2:06 left in regulation and then netting the game-winner in overtime as the Stars came back to defeat the San Jose Sharks 5-4.
Ribeiro agreed he chose a good time to break out of the slump, but humbly deflected some credit to his teammates.
“I guess it was a good time, but we stuck with it,” he said of the big comeback, which saw the Stars erase a 4-2 deficit with 2:35 left in the third period. “It feels great. It couldn’t have come at a better time, but it’s a team effort and we didn’t quit all night.”
His coaching staff and teammates weren’t worried about Ribeiro’s performance so far this season, because despite the zero, he’d still registered 14 assists through the 16 games, which at one point last week led the entire NHL and now still sits among the top 15. He was still generating chances, as his 36 shots on goal indicates, playing responsibly in his own zone, with a +1 plus/minus rating, and was logging 19:05 of ice time per game, third among Dallas forwards.
“He’s still creating, he’s still generating chances, he’s still good on the power play, he’s still good 5-on-5,” coach Marc Crawford said of Ribeiro’s first 16 games. “And while it’s not going into the net for you, he’s still sitting there with 14 assists, still among the top 50 scorers in the league. That’s pretty good. But there’s no doubt that there’s value in scoring and he values scoring, he wants to raise those arms in the air.”
“To be honest, he’s not there to score goals, he’s more like a passer and I think he’s been playing really good, even though he didn’t score,” added defenseman Stephane Robidas
. “There’s a lot of frustration on his part because he wants to do well and he’s a big part of this team. Even though he doesn’t score, he makes good plays, he’s a smart player. I think it’s good for his confidence to get those two big goals.”
And Ribeiro seemed to be generating better and better chances lately, even ringing a few off goalposts. So there was a sense that it was just a matter of time before the floodgates opened and boy, did they. He seemed visibly lighter on his feet with the monkey off his back.
“You knew it was going to come,” said linemate and captain Brenden Morrow
, who assisted on both Ribeiro goals. “Skill guys like him, you can’t keep him away. His chances were there, they weren’t coming, he wasn’t putting them in the net, but he stayed with it and those were two timely ones. I think we’d trade all the ones he could have had up til now for those two, because they were two big ones for us.”
“It’s about time, I don’t think we could have stood another day without him scoring,” Crawford joked. “Once he scored, nobody could catch him, he was above the puck and you just saw his speed come back. That’s what happens, I think, when you start pressing, everything gets heavy. You carry the weight of the world around with you and Mike’s not a big guy, so it was pretty heavy. He made a great move on the tying goal - he had to go into a tough area, he had to have a real quick stick, he found it and got it right upstairs. For him to wait that long for a goal, he sure scored a great goal to break the slump.”
Both goals demonstrated the 30-year-old Ribeiro’s determination to score, because he did have to venture into the difficult areas in front of the net on both. On the tying goal, he barrelled into the crease to chip a loose puck over San Jose goaltender Antti Niemi, and on the OT game-winner, he pulled the puck out of some skates on the left side of the net, drifted across the top of the crease on his backhand to force Niemi to go down, and then lifted a backhander over him.
And Ribeiro almost ended the game before it even got to overtime, when he jammed a loose puck under Niemi with 20 seconds left in regulation, but the referee waved it off because he had just blown the whistle.
Two goals that showed off his finesse, but also carried a hint of grit to them, was a good sign from the 6-foot, 179-pound Montreal native and bodes well for the club moving forward.
“The first one, I was so nervous, I just threw the puck up and it went in,” recounted Ribeiro, who topped the Stars in scoring in three of his four full seasons in Dallas. “The second one I was a little more patient, but once again, it’s the team. It’s two points and it feels good to come back like that, it was a 4-2 game, so to come back and win, I think it’s a big boost for the team.”
“For him being off the schneid, that’s huge for our team,” Crawford noted, “because we know how well Brad Richards’ line is playing and we know how well the guys who are playing with Ribby are playing - whether it’s Morrow, who’s been such a character guy for us this year or (Adam) Burish or Jamie Benn
or (Brandon) Segal, they’ve all played very well. And now having Ribeiro not only having great passing but offensive ability, also sets us up very nicely.”
Ribeiro admitted that it was getting a bit frustrating, particularly after some of the prime chances he failed to capitalize in recent games.
“I had some slumps in my career in the middle of the season, but you don’t really see it or you don’t really feel it if it’s 40th game of the year to the 50th, it’s not as bad, I think,” noted Ribeiro, who notched 19 goals and 53 points in 66 games last season. “But this one was 16 from the beginning of the year, it gets a little harder, it gets to you. I was a little bit frustrated the last few games, too, but the boys kept joking with me and trying to keep my smile and try to stay positive with me.”
Now that the burden of not scoring has been lifted, it will be exciting to see just how well a more confident Ribeiro contributes to the Stars’ offense.