By Jim Diamond
Halfway through the overtime period of Tuesday night’s game against the visiting Colorado Avalanche, Nashville Predators center Mike Ribeiro found himself inside his own blue line along the boards near the Colorado bench. Avalanche forward Alex Tanguay came charging at Ribeiro, so he calmly lifted a saucer pass to Craig Smith near center ice.
After taking control of the puck, Smith had a clear breakaway and won the game with a wrist shot just past the glove of goaltender Semyon Varlamov.
“There was a guy coming behind me I think, and I didn’t want to go too hard so he couldn’t reach it,” Ribeiro said. “I was just trying to give him time to get close to the blue line, just put it in an area that he can just skate with it and not force it too much. Great goal.”
The assist was the third of the night for Ribeiro, the second time this season that the Montreal native has posted three helpers in a game. Ribeiro’s teammates marvel at his ability to find them with a perfect pass no matter where they are on the ice and no matter how many opponents are surrounding him.
“He’s great in high-pressure situations,” Smith said. “He seems to have a knack for just holding onto the puck and finding your stick. He seems to be pretty patient and calm, so whenever he has it, you’ve got to be ready.”
Ribeiro picked up a pair of secondary assists on Nashville’s first two goals, an even strength goal by Roman Josi and a power-play marker from Colin Wilson.
After 46 games, Ribeiro has 32 assists on the season, good for .70 assists per game. Paul Kariya holds the franchise record for assists in a season. He posted 54 in 2005-06, which equated to .66 per game.
Rookie Filip Forsberg had the other goal for Nashville Tuesday, the lone unassisted goal of the night. He has played nearly the entire season on Ribeiro’s wing and has been the recipient of many of Ribeiro’s passes, even if he isn’t quite sure how the puck ends up on his stick.
“I’ve been playing with him all year, and I still don’t understand how he does it sometimes,” Forsberg said. “That saucer pass to Smitty on the game winner there, there’s only a few select players that can do that.”
After a week off due to the All-Star break, Ribeiro’s hands were anything but rusty after the extended layoff.
“I think it is more your legs than anything,” Ribeiro said. “If you move your feet, the rest gets going. I think it is more mental than anything. You have that break, guys go away, and to be focused yourself to come back and have a good game, I think it’s hard to do.”
But he did do it, and the team will need him to continue to do so as the anchor of the team’s top line if they want to further the success they have had through the first 46 games of the season. And if he does, he may just find himself at the top of the list of the franchise’s most prolific passers.