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Mike Ribeiro earns more than passing grade early in Capitals tenure

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 12, 2013

SUNRISE, Fla. — When skating on a line with Mike Ribeiro, the speedy Jason Chimera doesn't stop. He doesn't have to.

"He's one of those guys that doesn't make you stop for pucks and doesn't make you turn around," Chimera said. "He hardly ever turns the puck over and stuff like that. When it's time to get the puck deep, he gets pucks deep. And he knows how to play the game the right way."

Ribeiro has been playing the game the right way so far this season, even amid the Washington Capitals' inconsistency. He's far and away the team's leading scorer with 17 points, making the offense go even as consistent production from Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom has been lacking.

But the 33-year-old isn't satisfied.

"I feel good. Obviously you always want to get better, game in and game out," he said. "There's things that I would like to improve, like faceoffs, less time in my zone, just other stuff that you always can get better at, and that's what I'm trying to do."

Coach Adam Oates pointed to Ribeiro losing a key faceoff that led to a back-breaking goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins last week, but the veteran's mistakes have been more than mitigated by his being more than a point-a-game player. Even if he doesn't continue at this pace, Ribeiro has already shown plenty of evidence that the Caps giving up Cody Eakin and a second-round pick for him was worth it.

"I like the trade for Ribeiro," general manager George McPhee said Friday. "He's been terrific for us."

And terrific for his linemates. Early in the season, right wing Joel Ward was a primary beneficiary of playing alongside Ribeiro, while more recently it has been Ovechkin.

Ribeiro is much more of a playmaker than Joey Crabb or Jay Beagle, and it was playing on a line with Ribeiro that Ovechkin got his first even-strength goal, Saturday night against the Florida Panthers.

"Him and Nicky are all skilled guys," Ovechkin said. "We know he can make a pass and he make a dangle on somebody. You just have to wait and try to be open."

The nice part about Ribeiro is that teammates don't have to try too hard to be open. Chimera and right wing Troy Brouwer likened him to a quarterback who can survey the field and put the ball right where it's supposed to go.

"By him having the puck, he dictates where he wants guys to go," Brouwer said. "If you're not where he needs you to be, he's good at adjusting to make it so you're in a position where you're open and you're in support. You see how he's always shifting and kind of snaking around out there. He's just a really good player at seeing the ice very well."

Ribeiro considers himself a cerebral player. Listed at 6 feet and 177 pounds, he has to rely on the mental aspect of his game to enjoy any level of success.

So dictating the tempo of a game or a shift is a concerted effort to get his wingers into the action.

"The reason for it is to have guys forecheck well and put the pressure on those D," Ribeiro said. "It's easier for me to read when they pass the puck, and my pressing the puck a lot of times you will just rim the puck, so I can read those plays and know where the puck goes. They have a big part of my reading of the play."

Ribeiro said linemates might not know it, but they play a big role in how he quarterbacks plays on the ice. What he provides for linemates, Ward said, is plenty of space.

And while Ribeiro is working his magic, teammates don't have to worry about being in the perfect spot.

"He dictates a lot of the play going up the ice. You've just got to fill in lanes when he's got the puck," Ward said. "You've just got to follow his lead a little bit. He knows when to turn it on and when to slow it down and he just reads it really well and just makes it easier to get up in the play and fill in holes."

Looking at Ribeiro in isolation, he doesn't exert too much effort, either. It's a part of his game that often goes overlooked. But not to his coach.

"In today's game, it's very rare because the players are so programmed to skate hard all the time," Oates said. "And Mike's one of those guys in the league that knows how to change gears. It's a very important thing."

It's impossible to overlook Ribeiro's importance to the Caps. His presence relieves pressure from Backstrom and allows for more mixing and matching among top-six forwards.

Lately, Oates found chemistry by putting Ribeiro between Chimera and Ovechkin. A lot of combinations can work with Ribeiro's skill-set, but this one in particular seemed to suit him well.

"He knows how to use my speed, he knows how to use Alex's shot," Chimera said. "So with him in the middle, I think he could use a good combination of our [skills]. Kind of use my speed when we needs to, and he's good at spotting Ovi in the open places, too."

And at spotting teammates on the power play. Ribeiro struggled in recent years when Dallas Stars teammates could finish on chances, but so far the Caps are taking advantage of his sharp passing.

"Sometimes I give the puck and [teammates] won't score," Ribeiro said. "But my thing, my job is to create those chances for those guys, and then at some point the puck will go in."

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