Ryder is happy to be out of hockey jail
|01.02.09 at 5:29 pm ET|
The telltale signs are all there that Michael Ryder has long since removed the bitter sting of last season’s regrets from his mind. The 28-year-old seemed to take a year-long lap of misery around Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau’s dog house while alternating between the bench and miscast roles for a gifted scorer on the Canadiens’ third and fourth lines.
Ryder’s well-chronicled struggles led to a career-low 14 goals and painful splinters on the pine for much of last season’s Stanley Cup playoff run by the Habs. The phrase rock-bottom comes readily to mind, but his lap of discontent at the Bell Centre essentially seems like it was a million hockey years ago now.
With a hope that all his troubles would be left behind in Quebec, Ryder inked a three-year, $12 million deal with the Bruins last summer but the jury was out after the first month of the season.
Ryder was standing strong along the wall and utilizing his wiry 6-foot, 192-pound frame while adhering to a strong, responsible brand of two-way hockey, but let’s be completely honest here. The 1998 8th round pick of the Habs had scored only three goals through Nov. 26 and critics had stepped forth to question both the signing and Ryder’s desire to finish off scoring plays.
Then Ryder tallied a pair of goals in the traditional afternoon game on the day after Thanksgiving and completely took off on a lamp-lighting tear during the merry, merry month of December. A grand total of nine markers during the 13 Bruins games played in December signaled a goal-scoring bonanza, and Ryder has become an integral part of the Ryder/David Krejci/Blake Wheeler troika that’s been left intact while B’s coach Claude Julien tinkers with the other two top skating lines.
“I was definitely getting the chances at the time and it wasn’t going in,” said Ryder of his struggles early in the season. “I definitely don’t have any ready answers. I just tried to keep working hard and shooting the puck, and said that eventually it will start going in.
“Maybe I was trying to pick my spots a little too much and trying to be a little too fine,” added Ryder. “Once I got on a roll with Krejci and Wheeler as a line, though, things really started working out well.”
One of the keys to Ryder’s success? A short memory. Ryder is done wondering whether Carbonneau had benched him for lack of production, a personality clash or some other perceived misdeed that Montreal’s bench boss never bothered to pass along to the scuffling player at any time last year.
“Last year was a tough year and I honestly don’t even want to think about it any more,” said Ryder. “I’m just trying to fit in here and it hasn’t been that hard. That’s for sure. It’s always easy when you’re playing. That’s the main thing: I wanted to play and help the team.
“I don’t even think about [the last year in Montreal] because I have a job to do here,” added Ryder. “Everybody goes through tough times and people have been there in their careers before. We just need to keep our mind on what we’re doing here and keep our foot on the gas pedal.”
Ryder has packed away the unfulfilled expectations and bitter residue left over from his time donning the Habs sweater in Montreal, and is instead simply focused on the task at hand in the Hub. It’s something that’s allowed a quiet, efficient concentration on taking pucks hard to the net and unloading his unfairly quick snap shot on unsuspecting goaltenders all over the NHL.
This year the team success has melded with Ryder’s individual production, and for all intents and purposes the B’s and Claude Julien have allowed the two-time 30 goal scorer to escape from the depths of hockey jail deep in the heart of Canada. He’s on pace to pot 30 goals again this season while riding shotgun with Krejci and Wheeler, and that’s exactly what GM Peter Chiarelli had in mind when he bagged the free agent.
Julien has seen a return of the skilled shooter that could reel off two or three goals in a game and has always had the knack for potting the right score at the right time — a trait attested by his NHL-best seven game-winning daggers thus far this season.
“I hope he’s enjoying his season a little better…he’s on a team that’s winning a lot of hockey games,” said Julien. “When you lead the league in game-winning goals that has to be a lot of fun to be leading with that stat. I think he’s found a pretty comfortable niche here where he’s enjoying himself with the guys and the guys appreciate him as well.
“He’s been a good fit for us,” added Julien. “Even though he got off to a bit of a slow start in the goal-scoring area, he made up for it with a lot of things. Now he’s found his scoring touch and he’s scoring goals, and there’s no doubt that has to be a lot more fun than being a healthy scratch some nights.”