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Ribeiro Picking Up His Game

by John Tranchina / Dallas Stars

Mike Ribeiro Video Highlights
Which came first, the chicken or the egg? 

Or to apply that thinking to the Dallas Stars’ surprisingly sub-par first quarter of the season, did the team overall start playing better first, leading to an improved performance by center Mike Ribeiro or has Ribeiro raising his level of play recently helped the team attain better results?

The answer is probably a little bit of both. In his last 13 games, Ribeiro has compiled four goals and 13 points, while the club has enjoyed a 7-4-2 stretch after a disappointing start to the season that saw the Stars in the very unusual spot of last place in the Western Conference standings for much of the first two months.

But now that the team seems to have righted the ship a bit, Ribeiro has made significant contributions to their improved fortunes and, after leading the squad in scoring last year with 83 points (including a career-high 27 goals and a team-high 56 assists), currently sits second on the team with 33 points. Along with seven goals, including four on the power play, which is tied for the team lead, Ribeiro again paces the club in assists with 26.

He also sports a stellar 4-for-6 shootout ledger, including a beautiful goal in the third round of the shootout Saturday night against Phoenix that kept the Stars alive before ultimately dropping a 1-0 game. 

“He’s been good,” Coach Dave Tippett said. “I think that’s a little bit of a by-product of our whole team right now. I just see everybody, we’ve got a little extra jump right now and your key guys, when they have a little bit of a jump, they can make so much of an extra difference. Ribeiro’s finding some points but his all-around game is pretty good right now.”

The 28-year-old native of Montreal, who is in the first season of a new five-year contract, is a primary guy that the club relies on to generate consistent offense, as he also led the squad in playoff scoring with 17 points during last spring’s run to the Western Conference Finals. His average ice time figure of 20:56, which virtually ties Brad Richards for the club lead among forwards (not counting Brenden Morrow’s 21:21 in 18 games before his injury in November) further demonstrates his importance to the team’s fortunes.

Thankfully, after an up-and-down first couple of months - again, mirroring the team - Ribeiro has looked a lot more like his crafty old self.

One other factor that has helped is the impressive performances from teammates Richards (who leads the team with 34 points) and Loui Eriksson (compiling a club-high 21 goals) and the All-Star Game-bound Mike Modano (13 goals and 26 points). That has led to others getting more attention from opposing teams’ best checking lines, allowing Ribeiro a little more room to operate.

“It goes with the team, too. When the team’s playing better, things go better,” Ribeiro said of his recent hot streak. “There’s less focus I think on my line, too. There’s more focus on Richie and Loui - Loui has 20 goals - so I think that gives me a little more space out there.”

With all the injuries that the club endured over the first couple of months, including the devastating season-ending knee injury to captain Brenden Morrow, who had developed such dazzling chemistry with Ribeiro, has meant that Ribeiro was skating with a continual revolving door of linemates all year.

But following gritty winger Steve Ott’s recent return from the IR list, Ribeiro finally appears to have found a stable partner to match up with. Chris Conner filled in on the other wing for a couple of games and Jere Lehtinen lined up there Saturday. No matter who the third member was, the combination has made an impact.

“I think also, Otter’s a big part of it,” Ribeiro said. “He’s a guy with less skills than Brenden but kind of the same work ethic, a guy who crashes and forechecks well. I think he’s been a big part of it. Finally, I found someone this year I can play more than five games, and hopefully we can keep going with that.”

“Since Ott has been with Ribeiro, I’ve thought the two of them have played very well together, they feed off each other pretty well,” Tippett added. 

Ott’s abrasive style of play, similar to Morrow’s, has accelerated the adjustment between the two, since he fills much the same role on the line that Morrow did. And, as Ribeiro noted, even though Ott may not quite have the goal-scoring skills as the captain (who notched a career-high and club-best 32 goals last season with nine more in 18 playoff games), his presence has allowed Ribeiro to operate much the way he did before.

“That was the thinking with putting Ott there, as a similar kind of player,” Tippett confirmed. “What they do is create loose pucks and we want Ribeiro with the puck as much as we can and if Otter can create some loose pucks and go to the net for him, it’s very similar to the Brenden and Ribeiro connection, so hopefully, that will continue for us.” 

“If I can be a quarter of the player that Brenden Morrow is, I think that we’ll definitely have a little bit of success,” said Ott, who has recorded three goals and nine points in 24 games so far this year. “And that’s just by working hard, competing, getting the puck to Ribeiro and being able to have a lot of puck zone time in the offensive zone and you’ll get your chances. And I think a lot of little plays that Brenden and Mike did, they’re obviously in the back of my mind and hopefully, we can connect on some of them.” 

As crushing a blow as Morrow’s injury was to the team as a whole, affecting them both on the ice and in the locker room, it was equally difficult for Ribeiro individually to initially deal with. He struggled through a stretch of 10 games with just one goal and one assist after Morrow’s departure before finally starting to pull out of his funk.

“I’ve had to adjust all year with different players, different styles of play that I didn’t know,” Ribeiro noted. “I don’t think I had a line more than three or four games through the year, so it was hard for me to get going and find someone or a line that can work. I think it was pretty good with (rookie Fabian) Brunnstrom, but he got hurt again, so we’ll find somebody else again. Right now, I think me and Otter, I’ll probably play with him and hopefully we can keep going.”

Now that the 6-foot, 180-pound Ribeiro seems to have re-discovered his mojo, his new linemates can’t help but marvel at his patience with the puck and his passing wizardry.

“Ribeiro’s such a magical player that it’s almost something special every game and you know you’re going to get excellent opportunities every single shift,” Ott said. “Playing with him, it’s fantastic. The guy is a super-skilled athlete and when you’re playing with him, you just get open and hopefully he hits you with a pass where you can just tap it in. He also likes to compete. He competes hard and for a little-statured guy, he goes in there hard, he hits, he wants the puck, he demands the puck and he’ll take his punishment with it.”

“I really enjoy playing with those guys, working hard and getting in there on the forecheck,” added Conner, who was recalled from AHL Peoria on Jan. 1 and has totaled five assists in 14 games overall this season. “It’s awesome. You always got to be ready (for a pass), keep your stick down around the net. Even if you can’t see it, he probably will, so it’s hopefully just going to hit your stick and go in.”

If Ribeiro and Ott can continue to produce the way they have recently, it won’t matter who else is with them, they should continue to generate plenty of scoring opportunities and that will help the Stars as they make their push up the standings. 

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