When the Montreal Canadiens acquired Thomas Vanek from the New York Islanders is early March, they knew the organization was getting a steal of a trade that could immediately help them win a Stanley Cup. Montreal received Vanek for a prospect from the Swedish Hockey League and a conditional second-round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft.
Vanek fit in well with the Canadiens and produced 15 points in 18 regular season games, but he’s struggled recently in the playoffs. He has eight points in 13 playoff games, which is respectable, but lately Vanek has been a non-factor.
Vanek is a goal scorer if nothing else in the NHL, and what’s allowed him to score consistently throughout his career has been his willingness to crash the net. When Vanek’s on his game, he gets to the net and makes life difficult on the opposing goalie.
He’s extremely skilled at deflecting the puck in front and he also puts himself in great position to get rebound chances. So far in the Eastern Conference Finals against the New York Rangers, Vanek hasn’t gotten to those scoring areas nearly as much as he usually does. Montreal took 41 shots on goal in Game 2, but not a single one came off the stick of Vanek.
The Rangers will maintain most of their defensive focus on stopping Montreal’s first line of Max Pacioretty, David Desharnais and Brendan Gallagher, which may leave it up to other players like Vanek to step up and produce offense. New York’s done well to deny Vanek a chance to camp out in front of their crease, but Vanek must find a way to make a difference in the series.
It’s not all on Vanek considering the Canadiens only have three goals in two games so far against New York, but he’s been nonexistent at times on the ice. When Vanek’s playing well, he’s dangerous on offense and makes the defense commit to stopping him. Right now he’s not drawing much attention from New York’s defense at all.
Perhaps a better power play will spark some production for Vanek, who scored three power play goals in the second round. The power play as a whole has not looked good in the first two games, but Vanek will continue to get playing time with a man advantage. That’s when it might be easier for Vanek to play his game and get below the circle.
Whether it be on the power play or at even strength, Vanek needs to raise his game and score some goals for his team.
Secondary scoring has to come from somewhere in order for Montreal to climb back into the series, and Vanek is as good a candidate as any to start producing more on offense. He could start with shooting the puck a little more, and hopefully good things will follow.