Maybe it was the writer’s strike ending, or maybe it was just about time he broke through, but TV was back on the air last night and I couldn’t have been happier.
I’ve been waiting to post about Vanek until something big happened. I had noticed a difference in the way he’s been playing the past half dozen or so games, and now that I look back I may have waited a bit too long to say anything.
Everyone’s talking about the kid now, but what many may not see is that this is a long time coming.
The one thing I’ve always loved about Thomas is his cocky style. It’s not a “holier then thou” attitude, but the fact that he knows how good he is and exactly what he’s going to do with it. It’s the “eff you!” slap shot you saw in Montreal last year, and the flair he showed tonight.
Coming down the wing against Emery, Vanek picked a spot and ripped it by the goaltender. In hindsight Emery simply had no chance. Vanek knew he had the shot to get it by, and before he could think that puck was in the net. (With the aid of some nice scouting by Jim Corsi, mind you…)
That kind of confidence was something that just wasn’t there for the majority of the season. Think back to his shootout struggles. On a shootout you need one of two things: 1) speed, or 2) knowing exactly what you are going to do. We all know Vanek doesn’t have the fastest wheels, but what makes him so good is the fact that he is confident enough to know where he is going and just go there.
Did that happen on any of his shots this year? The one that stuck out to me was against Marty Broduer. He came in slowly and waited to see what Marty would do. When he hesitated like that I knew there was no chance, even with Marty’s 5-hole open it just wasn’t going to happen.
The difference between he and a player like Ales Kotalik was not in his talent, but in the confidence Ales had in his move (top shelf backhand). By now every goaltender in the league knows about that backhand, Marty had even pokecheked it away just a few games ago. Still, Ales had the balls to say “screw it, stop it again” and Marty couldn’t. Where Ales had the confidence in himself Vanek was looking for mistakes from the goaltender. I’m no life coach, but that seems like no way to go through a season.
There is something about TV that you start to notice after watching closely: you know the kind of game he will have based on his forecheck. Maybe this is true with a lot of hockey players, but with Vanek especially it is pretty obvious.
His cocky style shows through when he pressures the D; that nasty, hacking pursuit that would drive me mad. Even if he takes the occasional penalty, I’d much rather see Vanek’s “slash and burn” forecheck to Roy’s “oh you’re going this way I’ll go the other” format. A lot of the chances that Vanek/Roy/Connolly line saw tonight came from the aggressive forecheck started by Vanek.
People always knock his skating speed, but one of the things I’ve noticed is that he is rarely out of position. I was almost shocked when he was caught flat-footed on New Jersey’s first goal last Wednesday. Even after getting beat, I almost expected him with a stick in the slot breaking that pass up.
One of the deceiving things about his missed chances are the sheer amount of times he is in the right place at the right time. Watch him on the next 3 on 2 rush his line sees. He may not always carry the puck in, and his strides may not be the longest, but how many times is he the guy six inches from the rebound on the doorstep? If Vanek drove home all the chances he created for himself TSN would never have his “$ per goal” total ready to go, but without that instinct he would just be… Dustin Penner.
I know this is long and maybe unnecessary, but I really feel that Vanek has turned the corner we wanted him to pass so long ago.
The drive you see in that picture has been there the whole month, and last night it finally showed up on the scoreboard.
Man I’ve missed this show.