One of the rare bright spots of Washington’s dismal start has been the team’s performance on the power play. The Caps are 9-for-42 (21.4%) with the extra man this season, 12th best in the NHL. Washington has had more than one power-play goal in a game just once this season, but it has never gone more than one game without scoring one.
The off-season addition of center Mike Ribeiro in a deal with Dallas has proven to be a good one. Ribeiro is the team’s leading scorer with 13 points (four goals, nine assists) and he is tied for the team lead in goals.
Although he started the season on Washington’s second power-play unit, Ribeiro has also proven to be the catalyst for the Capitals’ power-play success this season, at least in the early going.
With three power-play goals – including the team’s only 5-on-3 goal – and five extra-man assists this season, Ribeiro has had a hand in eight of Washington’s nine power-play goals on the season.
Ribeiro is averaging 3:48 per game in power-play ice time, ranking fifth on the team in that department. He is tied with Alex Ovechkin for the team lead in power-play goals and he has three more extra-man points than anyone else on the team.
Ribeiro is tied for fourth in the NHL in power-play scoring along with Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos and Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin.
Last season, Ribeiro was the Stars’ leading power-play scorer, but Dallas had the league’s worst power play at 13.5%. The Stars had 33 power-play goals on the season, fewest in the NHL. Ribeiro was involved on nearly half (15) of those, picking up two goals and 13 assists while the Stars enjoyed the man advantage.
With Washington, Ribeiro has a better cast of skilled players surrounding him on the power play. He has three right-handed options to feed: Troy Brouwer in the slot, Mike Green at the right or center point, and Alex Ovechkin at left point/half-wall/back door.
“Here,” Ribeiro told me before the season started, “I think I have more shooting options than I had the last few years. That will change the dimension of your power play, when guys can score from the blueline. It’s just a matter of moving the puck and letting the puck do the work and finding those seams.
“Ovi can shoot, Greener can shoot. We have to get shots through and recover those rebounds. A lot of times once you get that first shot, the tendency of the [penalty-killing unit] is to try to retrieve that puck and most of the time the power play guys are closer to that puck, and that’s when you can get a seam from [penalty-killers] trying to chase the puck and it opens some plays up.”
At season’s outset, Ribeiro was on the right half-wall position on the team’s second power-play unit. A few games into the campaign, he moved up to the first unit, operating from a spot off the goalpost and below the goal line on the right side.
Ribeiro was used to the half-wall spot in Dallas, but has proven to be prolific from both.
“I am usually on the half board,” says Ribeiro, “but when I played in Montreal early in my career I played there, too. I’ve played a little bit everywhere; I guess you have to adjust to wherever you have to play. I would like to be a little bit above the line. But I like to go behind [the goal line] and suck those guys behind that goal line and be able to find other guys in front.”
With Washington not quite a quarter of the way through the 2012-13 season, Ribeiro has already exceeded last season’s total in power play goals and is more than halfway to his total in power-play points.
Ribeiro’s single-season career high in power-play goals is eight, established in 2005-06 with Montreal and matched in 2009-10 with Dallas. His single-season best in power-play points is 31 (seven goals, 24 assists) with the Stars in 2007-08.
Occasionally, Ribeiro and Backstrom switch places along the right side, but regardless of which is where, the opposition has two lethal left-handed distributors to contend with on that side of the ice.
The right-half wall spot is what Caps coach Adam Oates sees as the genesis of the Caps power play, the starting point once the team is in the zone and settled.
“When it comes to the power play, you have to have a set of rules,” says Oates. “To me, we put the puck in Nick’s hands. He is going to be the first guy that has to make the decisions. Tom Brady gets the ball every time. It doesn’t start with the wide receiver, it goes back to him. That’s what I believe.”
Washington started the season with just two power-play goals in its first 17 tries. It has converted on seven of 25 for a cool 28 percent conversion rate. That uptick roughly corresponds with Ribeiro’s promotion to the first unit.
“For sure, once he was out there consistently in that spot [it improved],” says Green. “And even if he does get it, he can walk up to his spot and create a cycle. I know a lot of the times when we’ve been out there he has carried it up and passed it to me and then he becomes that guy. He definitely is a big part of that side of the power play.”
Green marvels at Ribeiro’s work from below the goal line on the power play.
“He plays that spot well as far as dragging guys to him,” says Green. “Besides him and Nicky, I haven’t seen a lot of guys do it that well.”
“He is so skilled that he can make a pass through somebody’s skates to a guy up top. Then I have time to walk and establish a shot or pass to Ovi.
“It’s going to work. It’s going to work. It is working.”
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