Thomas Vanek of the Buffalo Sabres missed just two games due to an upper-body injury and returned for last night’s loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. But even before he went down and was absent from games with his injury, his production–which had been red-hot, especially at the start of the season–cooled off noticeably and he dropped out of the list of the NHL‘s most prolific goal-scorers. Even before missing those two games, his last goal scored was on Feb. 17 as the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Sabres 4-3.
He also didn’t score in his return, although he did try his hardest and looked like he had a gaping open net with Justin Peters out of position, but the new kid in Carolina’s lineup denied him with the blocker hand, corralling the puck underneath his body when Vanek probably thought he was going to get one:
That goal would’ve put Buffalo on the board after they were down two to nothing, but they later started fighting back and scoring during a hectic third period that featured a total of five goals scored from either side. Buffalo lost 4-3, even after this furious final period flurry.
Vanek has fallen slightly out of the lead for the league’s most productive goal-scorer. Right now, he’s in an eight-way tie for fifth place with 12 goals for the season. Yes, an eight-way tie. He’s with Eric Staal, Chris Kunitz, Patrick Kane, Andrew Ladd, Patrick Marleau, Brad Marchand and James van Riemsdyk, the other members of the Dirty Dozen Goals Club.
Vanek does have more goals so far this season than expected high-scorers Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Alexander Ovechkin, Zach Parise and Pavel Datsyuk, though.
Now that he’s back from his injury, look for him to reassert himself and get out of the Dirty Dozen Goals Club. Just one goal scored would put him behind only four other players who have scored more. Based on how he tried last night, especially as seen in the video above, he’ll get there soon.
The Sabres will play the struggling New Jersey Devils next on March 7. These two teams last met on March 2 and Buffalo took the 4-3 shootout win to prolong New Jersey’s losing streak, which is now at six. That could be just the chance Vanek needs to find his scoring touch again.