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Dallas Stars' Ribeiro Line Face Stern Test On The Road

"Dallas Star Mike Ribeiro relishes replacing Brad Richards. Michael Ryder and Mike Ribeiro have unbelievable chemistry." These are things we wrote in the preseason, largely because the visual evidence the exhibition schedule provided left little else to conclude. They were dynamic. They were productive. Then the regular season hit and we started tracking their efficiency via "scoring chances". We had to re-evaluate some things we thought we knew.

For example, Josh already talked about the issue of "who is the first line" at length (spoiler: It's Jamie Benn's line), and that was based mostly on four home games at American Airlines Center. How Gulutzan will manage his lines on the road is the real question as this team moves forward with their 5-1 record, and we only have limited data to go on thus far this season. Early evidence suggests that the Ribeiro line is the quickest to give up chances, and will be the target of road opponent's most talented units.

Goal for goal the Benn line has only out-produced Ribeiro's 5-4 at even strength thus far this season. It's a small sample size and it's too early to glean anything from it. Being the "top line" is about more than putting the puck in the net, however, and Benn's line is drawing more quality opposition and defensive zone starts thus far, earning perhaps more trust from the coaching staff.

It seemed in the early stages of the third period in Columbus on Tuesday night that Gulutzan went an extended time without putting his top offensive trio out on the ice. Ralph and Razor actually remarked on it during the game, and rightfully so that line responded with a huge goal by Michael Ryder a short time later.

Mike Heika asked Gulutzan about it after the game, inquiring if it was some kind of message being sent.

"When you have a team [Columbus] that's playing like this, they're winning more of the individual battles in the game and I thought we needed to use more of our bench," said Gulutzan. "I wanted to switch things up and kind of use four lines and win some more of those battles. I wasn't sending a message to anybody. I just think we need to a better job of getting pucks deep and learning how to protect leads."

Continued after the jump...

You can draw your own conclusions about that quote. The first time I heard I rolled my eyes a bit but when you look at the play by play it's not as bad as they made it seem on the broadcast. In fact this was the first time the Ribeiro line "broke even" on scoring chances by our count, so they're taking steps towards improvement.

The question is: Is this what we thought we'd see from this line, and how is it going to be when other teams match up against them on the road this year? (Other, better teams)

While we were surprised to see that Chicago placed the Bolland line against the Ribeiro trio nearly every time at United Center in the second game of the season with the Toews and Hossa lines champing at the bit for that mismatch, Columbus did what we expect to see from now on: Match a home team's best offensive players against that Stars' line.

Witness Tuesday night at Nationwide Arena for example, where they put Rick Nash against the Ribeiro line nearly every chance they could: 11 of 13 even strength faceoffs.

Strength Won By Dallas Players Columbus Players
EV DAL 2 6 10 32 63 73 1 16 18 51 58 61
EV CBJ 10 27 32 33 63 73 1 16 18 51 58 61
EV DAL 3 10 32 44 63 73 1 16 18 51 58 61
EV CBJ 3 10 32 44 63 73 1 16 18 51 58 61
EV CBJ 3 10 32 44 63 73 1 16 18 51 58 61
EV DAL 3 10 32 44 63 73 1 2 14 16 18 61
EV CBJ 3 10 32 44 63 73 1 5 10 16 18 61
EV DAL 2 6 10 32 63 73 1 2 14 22 28 50
EV CBJ 2 6 10 32 63 73 1 2 14 18 22 61
EV CBJ 2 6 10 32 63 73 1 16 18 51 58 61
EV DAL 2 6 10 32 63 73 1 16 18 51 58 61
EV CBJ 3 10 32 44 63 73 1 22 28 50 51 58
EV CBJ 2 6 10 32 63 73 1 16 18 51 58 61

#61 followed around #'s 63, 10 and 73. You can expect to see the same with the Perry/Getzlaf line on Friday, and the Kopitar line on Saturday.

You might also notice that the Stars won only five of these thirteen draws, all with Mike Ribeiro on the dot. He went 5 of 15 for 33% and unlike Jamie Benn or Vernon Fiddler, does not have a guy like Ott or Burish on his line to contribute in that aspect. Ribeiro's season average of 36.6% so far is putting his line at a disadvantage the majority of the time and is causing a lot of the issues being discussed in this post and elsewhere.

Ribeiro's career numbers are much better, though only comparatively so (to this season). The last three years in reverse order he's averaged 46.6%, 44.8% and 45.5%, so chances are his numbers will come up in the circle, but not to Fiddler and Ott-like numbers, both of whom are already over 50%. They'll finish there as well.

All of this just makes their task that much harder as they struggle to become the number one line we thought they were (and they certainly looked like it) in a dominant preseason.

These chess matches will be a fixture on the road this year. Ryder found the back of the net Tuesday. That line will have to continue to find a way to contribute offensively nightly if they continue to surrender the volume of scoring chances they have so far in the year, though we've yet to see much in the way of a significant road sample size. Otherwise a shakeup could be in order, and the chemistry and success that Benn line is building would possibly suffer as a result.

The good news: Mike Ribeiro eats up Pacific Division opponents. Next up: @ Anaheim, @ Los Angeles, @ Phoenix.

Update: Here are the running totals on scoring chances for each on the line...

Ribeiro 21 30 11 4 0 2
Ryder 18 26 11 3 0 0
Morrow 15 25 11 4 0 1

The line has been out-chances cumulatively 81 to 54 at even strength. Thanks to Josh for the data.