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Stars riding Ryder’s renewed scoring touch

by Bob Matuszak / Dallas Stars

As a hockey player, Michael Ryder has certainly been there and done that. From growing up in a small town in Newfoundland and then languishing in the East Coast Hockey League after being selected in the eighth round of the 1998 draft, to scoring big goals for the most storied franchise in the NHL and winning the Stanley Cup last season with Boston, the eight-year pro has transformed himself into a player the Stars simply can’t do without.

Accumulating 85 goals in his first three NHL seasons with Montreal before landing a checking role the past two seasons with the Bruins, Ryder has developed into exactly what every coach covets -- a goal scorer with a defense-first mentality.

“We need that checker that can score, and I think the hybrid Michael Ryder that’s evolved is probably the best kind of player for any team,” Stars coach Glen Gulutzan said. “We’re really happy to have him.”

Ryder arrived in Dallas as a free agent this summer after playing a major role in Boston’s title run in 2011. After netting 18 goals in 79 regular season games last year, Ryder scored eight times, added nine assists, and was a plus-8 in 25 postseason games for the Bruins as they won their first championship since 1972.

This year, Ryder has picked up where he left off last spring. Heading into Thursday’s game with Calgary, he leads the Stars in goals with 21 in 56 games, and his 39 points ranks third behind Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson.

But the statistic that proves Ryder’s emergence as a solid all-around player, and the one he’s most proud of, is his plus-11 rating, which is tied with Sheldon Souray for second-highest on the team. This comes after he was a minus player in each of his last three campaigns in Montreal -- including an ugly minus-25 in 2006-07 -- despite collecting 74 goals in that span.

“I take pride in the plus/minus,” said Ryder, who was a career-high plus-28 in 2008-09 with the Bruins. “When you play hard defensively it helps you offensively. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t just a one-way player. I’ve always thought that way. When you go against a top line, even though you want to score you always have in your mind that you don’t want to get scored against. When they do score against me, it really ticks me off.”

Ryder’s been ticking off Dallas’ opponents as of late. After laboring through a 10-game goal drought, he’s hit the back of the net four times in the last seven games.

“We always knew that he was a sniper back in Montreal, but he knows the game and is a smart player,” said Mike Ribeiro, who played with Ryder on the Canadiens for two seasons. “He knows how to play both offensively and defensively. He might be an awkward skater, but he’s a fast skater with a great release. He’s a guy that can consistently score 25 to 30 goals a year, and there’s not a lot of those guys that can score 30 goals a year.”

Ryder’s release was demonstrated to perfection in his goal against Los Angles Sunday that knotted things up at 2 early in the third period in a game the Stars eventually lost. While cruising into the high slot, he received the puck from Eriksson but paused a couple of seconds while locating his target and teeing the puck up on his blade.

That delay would normally spell doom for the shooter, as it gives the goalie enough time to adjust his positioning. But as slow as Ryder was while readying the puck, it was off his stick just as fast and into the top-left corner of the net just under the crossbar behind stunned Kings netminder Jonathan Quick.

The goal was the exact opposite of the one he scored two nights earlier in Buffalo. With the Stars on the power play, Ryder snuck to the front of the net and got good leverage on Sabres’ defenseman Robyn Regehr. From the left point, Alex Goligoski let go a slap shot that Ryder deftly deflected up and over Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller’s shoulder.

“He’s been tremendous and what we needed as a guy who has that quick-strike capability with the great shot,” Gulutzan said. “And if he gets the puck even in a non-traditional scoring area he can also score there, too.  He has the unique ability to play a defensive role, and then turn around and make something happen offensively.”

“You either have it or you don’t, and he has it,” Ribeiro added. “There are guys that can create their own chances and not have to rely on other players, and he’s one of those. He can go from slow speed to all of a sudden he’s in front of the net in a prime spot.”

Despite going over 20 goals in four of his first five pro seasons, Ryder took a back seat the last two years with the Bruins. Playing mostly on the bottom two lines, his offensive output suffered, and he scored just 36 goals in his last 161 regular season games in Boston. When the Stars signed him over the offseason, Ryder was anxious to rediscover that scoring touch in the south.

“Playing third line in Boston I knew what we needed to do to win and I accepted that role,” he said. “In Boston, I made sure I played hard defensively, and when I got the opportunity to get something going offensively I’d try to do that. Here in Dallas, I’m playing more than I used to in Boston, and I like that. It gives me more opportunities to show that even though my goals did drop with the Bruins, it wasn’t because I couldn’t do it anymore. You want to show people that you haven’t lost it and you know how to score. For me, I knew I could always score.”

Ryder’s durability is also shining through. He’s one of four players to have played in every game this season for the Stars, which is not all too surprising in that he’s never played less than 70 games in his previous seven seasons. He’s also strung together a 172 consecutive games played streak in his career as well.

But it’s Ryder’s postseason knowledge from last year that the Stars will be seeking as they continue their playoff push. Having a Stanley Cup winner in the locker room does wonders for a team, but having one that won it as recently as last year is twice as nice.

“You always need those guys because they know what you have to do to do it, and what you have to do to get there,” Ribeiro said. “You listen to what he has to say because he’s got the experience.”

Experience that Ryder is happy to share.

“I want to win, and I know what it’s like to win after winning the Cup in Boston,” he said. “Everyone here in Dallas wants to win and make the playoffs. So that’s what I’m concentrating on now, and that’s the main goal.”

With “goal” being the operative word for Ryder.

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