Anchoring the second line alongside captain Brenden Morrow
, the 31-year-old Ribeiro helped the Stars boast a strong two-pronged offensive attack when combined with top center Brad Richards’ combo.
Ribeiro led the squad in assists this past year for the third time, ranking seventh in the entire NHL with 52, and finished third on the club with 71 points. He also tied for the team lead, and for seventh in the league, with 72 takeaways.
It was a nice bounce-back performance for Ribeiro, who experienced some initial difficulties adjusting to former coach Marc Crawford’s system the season before and struggled with his confidence at times.
“We got along better, I guess, me and Crow this year,” said Ribeiro, who also ranked third among Stars forwards in ice time, averaging 19:57 per contest, the second-highest figure of his career. “I just approached the year better this year than the first year. We actually liked each other this year and last year that wasn’t the case, so that actually made it easier to play and to just concentrate on what you have to do to make the team win. I was a lot more positive and smarter about the game and I think that helped, too, to get that approach.”
Ribeiro pointed out that he adopted a more positive mindset through all the ups and downs of the season and that was reflected in his improved consistency.
“I wanted to come in and have a good attitude and stay positive no matter what,” said Ribeiro, who has topped 50 points in each of his five seasons with the Stars. “It’s a long season and you’re going to have those highs and you’re going to have those lows, but when things don’t go well, I wanted to try to stay positive and not bring the negativity around the team or around myself. It’s just a different approach, I wanted to stay positive no matter what and be a team-player and try to take that negative energy and transfer it into positive energy, just be prepared to play.”
And even though Ribeiro endured a much-publicized 16-game goal-scoring drought to start the season (while recording 14 assists over that span), he stayed true to his vow, maintaining his focus and staying upbeat. Eventually, he worked his way out of it and wound up with 19 goals on the season, firing 161 shots on goal in the process, his second-most ever.
“The first 15 games was really hard,” admitted Ribeiro, who counted seven power play goals and four game-winners among his season total. “You can have slumps in the middle of the season and no one sees it, but when you start your season without scoring the first 15 games, it was hard for me mentally. But I kept working and guys were laughing at me and stuff like that, so it made me feel comfortable. I just knew that I was going to get out of it by working hard and creating chances. Maybe next year, I’ll start out with a little better start than I did this year.”
Part of Ribeiro’s success could also be tied to the fact that he suited up for all 82 games, just the second time in 11 NHL seasons he’s accomplished that feat. Not having to deal with injuries allowed the 6-foot, 179-pound Montreal native to remain at his slick, play-making best all year.
“I don’t know, I just don’t like to miss games,” said Ribeiro, who was originally Montreal’s second-round selection (45th overall) in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft. “Once you miss even two or three games, when you come back, the game’s so much faster and you take a step back. I’m trying to play every game, even if I don’t feel good - you want to be in there and not skip a beat. You saw with guys that missed a few games this year, it took them five or six games to get back to shape or back to the same speed. I’m just trying to get out of the way of those big boys, play smarter than them and try and stay healthy.”
Almost as important as avoiding the trainer’s room was that he also re-captured his outstanding chemistry with Morrow, helping the captain achieve a career-high with 33 goals.
“We had no choice, it was a crucial time for everyone,” Ribeiro said of the duo’s success down the stretch, when he amassed 19 points (six goals, 13 assists) over a 17-game span late in the year. “You need to come out and play your hardest game and he’s a guy who always shows up no matter what. Bruises or not, he’s going to compete and that’s what you need from your captain and I’m just trying to follow him, work hard.”
“I think from a leadership side, he’s learned a lot and he’s a professional,” said Morrow, who scored a goal in each of the final five games. “He’s always had the skill, no one’s ever questioned his competitiveness or compete level, desire or hunger to win. It’s the professionalism and the other things, and I see a big change and I think a lot of guys recognize that and respect it.”
Still, despite the strong individual year, Ribeiro had a hard time considering 2010-11 anything but a disappointment after the club missed the playoffs for the third straight year. Dallas had one last opportunity to slide past Chicago into the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot with a win in their final game, but lost 5-3 in Minnesota.
“I don’t know what to think, I’m kind of in shock about what happened, you wish differently,” Ribeiro said of the way the season ended. “Every year is tough. Maybe this year, it was in our hands to decide our future and it didn’t work out the way we wanted to, so it’s definitely harder, that we had that chance to make it and didn’t. Frustrating knowing that your summer is going to be that long - it’s been a few years in a row, so it’s never fun.”
But even though the pain of missing out on the post-season will linger for quite a while, Ribeiro maintains optimism for the club’s future, citing the contributions made by second-year forward Jamie Benn
and the addition of defenseman Alex Goligoski
as big pluses moving forward.
“We have guys that got better as the year went on, a guy like Bennie, he started slow but his second half was amazing,” Ribeiro noted. “It’s good to see that now, he knows how to play it and we’ll expect a lot from him next year. We’re anxious to see him next year and how he’s going to produce. A guy like Goose too, a guy that joined us at the deadline, he was good for us on the power play, and you still know that you have your goaltenders that did a great job for us this year. I think that the best way we played this year is when we played well defensively and if you do that, your chances of winning will increase.
“You just come back with a positive attitude. We need to do more and get ready for the next year.”