Why Ribeiro's production should improve
The Phoenix Coyotes' season was just three games old, and things had already gone sideways. They were outscored 10-2 in games against the Islanders and Sharks after an opening-night win, and still had three games left on a road trip that bounced them around the East.
A cranky Dave Tippett was running the team through practice in a nearly empty Joe Louis Arena in Detroit when an observer pointed to the ice, and a surprising change.
Mike Ribeiro was on the wing.
In the summer, the Coyotes finally landed the top-six center they'd been missing for years, signing Ribeiro to a four-year deal worth $22 million. It was a moment of change for a Coyotes team that couldn't always attract free agents because of uncertain ownership.
Sure, they gave him one more year than they should have, but the Coyotes' longtime hole at center was filled. It lasted three games.
Ribeiro shrugged off what proved to be a very temporary move to wing, saying he played there plenty in Dallas, and was more than happy to play wherever Tippett needed him. Tippett clearly wanted more out his reunion with Ribeiro.
"[His] training camp was OK. First game, played pretty solid. Last couple games, he's been in the pot with everybody else," Tippett said when we chatted this week. "[He's] just not having enough impact on the game."
Three games in and Ribeiro was still looking for his first point as a Coyote. He hadn't managed more than two shots in any game. Making it worse, the guy who replaced him in Washington, Mikhail Grabovski, had three goals and five points in that same three-game span.
"I don't care about what he's doing to tell you the truth," Ribeiro said. "I'm here now. I don't care about what the other players do in the league. I don't follow that as you guys do. I just come here, do my job and try to help this team win."
When he started doing his job, the wins started to come.
Ribeiro's first point with Phoenix came the next day against Detroit, when he set up a Michael Stone blast from near the blue line just as a Phoenix power play expired.
His second came on a nice cross-ice pass against the Flyers that gave Oliver Ekman-Larsson plenty of room to operate and score.
Perhaps his prettiest assist yet with the Coyotes came against the Hurricanes. Ribeiro had the puck on the wall and made a pass to David Moss, who quickly got the puck back to Ribeiro as he was calmly skating in on Cam Ward. When the Hurricanes defenseman hit the ice to try and prevent a pass across the crease, Ribeiro still managed to find Lauri Korpikoski for a one-timer that broke a 2-2 tie.
The points he was starting to tally up weren't cheap secondary assists. He was doing the playmaking.
Tuesday night against the Senators, Ribeiro, while battling in front of the net, tipped an Ekman-Larsson shot on the power play on a late goal that sent the game against Ottawa into overtime.
His numbers since Tippett said he wasn't having enough impact? Four games, four points. Perhaps more importantly, the Coyotes have posted a 3-0-1 record.
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