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Capitals' Mike Ribeiro always ready to assist

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Sports,NHL,Capitals,Brian McNally

Quiet center bolsters the Capitals

Capitals center Mike Ribeiro will not burst into the locker room and make any passionate pregame speeches to his new teammates. That has never been his style.

No, Ribeiro, will do his talking on the ice this season -- a critical one both for himself as a free agent at the end of the season and for Washington, which is still looking to push past the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in the Alex Ovechkin era.

Ribeiro, 32, should help there. His presence at center provides depth at a spot where the Caps just didn't have it last season -- especially once star Nicklas Backstrom went down with a concussion Jan. 3 and missed 40 games. Ribeiro, who has played 12 seasons split between Montreal and Dallas, has produced between 51 and 83 points in each of the last eight seasons. He had 63 points in 2011-12 with the Stars.

"I'm not fast. I'm not big," said Ribeiro, who is listed at 6-foot, 180 pounds. "But I like to pass the puck and hopefully bring some experience, too."

Don't mistake his laconic demeanor for shyness. Ribeiro may not incite his teammates with words. He will make them laugh -- even if it's just to shake their heads at his flashy wardrobe. New coach Adam Oates said Ribeiro "looks like a rapper" when he first encountered him in July. Teammate Brooks Laich had met Ribeiro only in passing before the two skated together in Arlington this summer before the NHL lockout. But one memory stuck as the Caps left the arena after a game in Dallas two years ago.

"He's leaving the rink, and I was like, 'Holy cow, somebody put a mirror in front of that guy,'?" Laich said. "But, hey, it's never a bad thing. If we were all the same, it would be all boring. The short time that I've known him I really like him. And I think he's going to bring some flair for sure."

So far, Oates has had Ribeiro anchor his second line in practice next to wingers Troy Brouwer and Wojtek Wolski. And he should see substantial time this season on Washington's power play, which dropped from one of the league's best in 2008-09 and 2009-10 -- both years over 25 percent -- to mediocre the past two seasons (17.5 percent and 16.7 percent, respectively). Ribeiro is expected to inject some life into a unit that needs some.

Several new teammates have said over the past week that Ribeiro's presence also will help take pressure off Backstrom, who the past few seasons has been the only true playmaking center on the roster. That theory also works in Ribeiro's favor because he could see more matchups against second- and third-pair defensemen.

"Just skating with him before I went over to Switzerland, he's like a spineless jellyfish," Laich said. "He's like a slinky. You can't hit him. You go to hit him, he just wiggles through. I don't know how he does it. But he's very intelligent."

bmcnally@washingtonexaminer.com

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