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Ryder has rough ride with Canadiens as goal-scoring dries up

MONTREAL - These are trying times for Michael Ryder.

The Montreal Canadiens winger, a 30-goal scorer the last two seasons, isn't sure from day to day not only whether he'll be in the lineup, but whether he'll still be wearing red, white and blue.

The rumours grow louder as the NHL's Feb. 26 trading deadline approaches.

"You never know what's going to happen," the Bonavista, N.L., native said Thursday. "I'm still part of this team.

"If the plans for me are elsewhere, I guess I'll just have to wait and see and do what I can here with this team. I have to contribute as much as I can."

Ryder has played on one-year contracts his first four seasons in the NHL and can be an unrestricted free agent this summer.

Most of the talk lately has been about a deal with the Atlanta Thrashers involving star right-winger Marian Hossa. Reports - denied by Atlanta coach and general manager Don Waddell - say the Thrashers have given Montreal permission to talk contract with Hossa's agent.

As usual, many names have been thrown around in the media, including Ryder's slumping former linemate Chris Higgins and highly regarded defence prospect Alexei Yemelin, now playing in Russia.

It may all be hogwash, but it is true that there has been a heavy presence of Atlanta scouts at Montreal games of late, including a visit by Waddell himself for a game against the New York Rangers on Sunday.

Ryder gets to hear about it every day.

"I don't follow the rumours in the media, to be honest," he said. "I think it would be too much of a distraction if I did."

The six-foot, 185-pound winger has enough to worry about keeping his spot in the lineup, although he said it helps that the team has been winning and his own lack of production hasn't been a drag on the club.

The Ryder-Higgins-Saku Koivu line was Montreal's best last season, particularly in the second half, but all three have slumped of late and have been put onto different lines. The Tomas Plekanec-Alex Kovalev-Andrei Kostitsyn trio has carried the team for most of the season.

The Canadiens asked Ryder to pick up his defensive play after going minus-25 last season and he has done that - he was only minus-4 going into a game Thursday night against Toronto.

But it seems to have come at the expense of his best asset - his ability to pot goals with regularity.

After scoring only three times in the first two months of the season, Ryder suffered the indignity of being made a healthy scratch for a game Dec. 6 against Boston. Three games later, he was in the pressbox again for a game in Philadelphia.

After sitting out three more in late December, he seemed to snap out of it, scoring three goals in a four-game span, but more lethargy followed and he was back in street clothes for two games this week.

Coach Guy Carbonneau has tried bumping him to checking lines, reuniting him with Higgins and Koivu, taking him on and off the power play. Nothing has worked for long.

"Obviously, his scoring is down and when you don't score you have to be able to do something," said Carbonneau. "I'm not saying his work ethic is not there, but we've given him chances.

"I just want him to show me a little more that he wants to stay in the lineup every game. But we have other players that can do different kinds of stuff and right now they're playing well."

Many players over many years have been in Ryder's position - not playing well enough to earn ice time, but feeling they need more ice time to play better.

"It's tough when you're in and out of the lineup," said Ryder, who turns 28 on March 3. "It's hard to get into a rhythm.

"It's not easy, that's for sure, but I know I can score and that I will. It's just getting back into the rhythm and getting more ice. I have to work hard and make sure I get that.

"For the last month and a half or whatever, I've been trying to think more defensively," he added. "I haven't been scoring, but I've been playing well in the role I've been put in."


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