Back on March 7, Mike Ribeiro was looking like he deserved every penny he was asking for at the negotiating table.
With nine goals and 19 assists and a plus-3 rating, he was among the NHL leaders in points, averaging a point a game in his first 28 games as a Capital.
In the 19 games since then, the Caps’ 33-year-old center has managed just three goals and eight assists and is a minus-7. Ironically, the Caps are 12-6-1 during Ribeiro’s cold stretch
Clearly, the offensive exploits of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backsatrom and Marcus Johansson have pushed the Capitals from the bottom of the Southeast Division to the top, where they can extend their lead over the Winnipeg Jets to four points tonight against the underachieving Tampa Bay Lightning.
But for the Caps to get into the playoffs and make any kind of a run, they’ll need their newly formed second line of Ribeiro, Troy Brouwer and Martin Erat to produce at even strength.
“I don’t really like to play normal games,” Ribeiro said on Friday. “I like to play good games. … I know that if I play well defensively I’m always going to have points.”
Through 41 games, 20 of Ribeiro’s 39 points have come on the power play, where he and Backstrom have quarterbacked the top unit in the NHL.
Thursday night’s power-play goal by Brouwer accentuated Ribeiro’s ability to use Ovechkin as a decoy. Positioned at the goal line, Ribeiro made eye contact with Ovechkin and Eric Staal took the bait and drifted toward Ovechkin, leaving Brouwer open for a one-timer from the right circle.
“I looked at Ovi and looked at Ovi and looked again,” Ribeiro said. “When Staal went back to Ovi, Brows was open. If he’s not, I go back to Nicky and he goes back to Greenie [Mike Green] for a shot.”
The fact Ribeiro was even on the ice for that power play goal is a credit to Adam Oates’ patience. Minutes earlier, Ribeiro was sent to the box for high-sticking Tim Wallace on a faceoff, negating a Capitals power play. Ribeiro was arguing with the referee just before the play.
It wasn’t the first time this season Ribeiro’s temper got the best of him. Of his 10 penalties this season, three have been for high sticking and three for unsportsmanlike conduct.
“Everybody loses their temper once in a while,” Oates said. “As a coach you wish he wouldn’t do it every time. Everybody has their leash and I know Mike’s. He came back on the next shift and he set up a power-play goal. So if I bench him for it, shame on me, right?”
Ribeiro says he regrets taking the high-sticking penalty but says he sometimes injects emotion into his game when things are getting stale.
“Obviously, you don’t want to do that too often," he said, "especially when that’s what we’re looking for in a game, a power play. I was letting frustration out.
“That’s a part of my game I’ve always played. I try not to scream too much to the refs and stuff, but that’s the way I play. If I don’t play with emotion sometimes I just drift away. It gets me in the game a little more.”