Atlas turned Heracles

by Ryan

Thomas Vanek is paid to score goals, and as such he is paid to take shots. For the majority of the season he did just that, leading the league in goals for a few months and carrying this Sabres team at some very important times. However, many people have noticed a change in his game recently, and I thought it would be interesting to see if the numbers back this up. Over the last few games his assist totals have risen, and he currently sits at 28 goals and 14 assists. Still a 2 to 1 goals to assists ratio, but something clearly has changed over the past month.

Here is Vanek’s game log:

First Five Games: 7G, 2A, 32 SOG

Next Ten Games: 5G, 1A, 33 SOG

Next Ten Games: 6G, 2A, 31 SOG

Next Ten Games: 7G, 1A, 34 SOG

Last Eleven Games: 3G, 8A, 21 SOG

His first five games were nothing short of spectacular, with seven goals and 32 shots. Even after that he maintained an impressive total total, averaging a goal every game or so. He managed to average just over 3 shots per game over that stretch, which isn’t fantastic but clearly is more than his last 11 games.

Since December 27th, Vanek hasn’t had more than 4 shots in a game, and his goal total reflects that. His assists have gone up drastically, with 8 of his 14 coming over this stretch. Vanek had a five game point streak as well, and while his shot total has gone down his point total hasn’t. After the season he has had thus far, seeing Vanek score only three goals since then does seem unusual.

That doesn’t mean he hasn’t been productive, but his game certainly has changed. I’m not the only one to notice, as Kevin openly wondered where the “Try to stop me” Vanek has gone, and Mike Harrington simply stating that Vanek is passing too much. No one is claiming that assists are bad, but a goal scorer that refuses to shoot at times certainly isn’t a positive.

The fluctuation in numbers isn’t always such a bad thing. New linemates, an off game here and there, or even just a lot of blocked shots can make your numbers look pedestrian for stretches, but I think there is something more behind what’s going on with Vanek. He’s not playing poorly, he’s just been playing a different game than we’re used to. This season Vanek has been playing like Atlas, but perhaps he’s moving back to the 2006-07 version of himself, when he registered 43 goals and 41 assists and earned himself that big offer sheet.

Either way, it’s still very hard to complain about Vanek this season. He won’t be winning any +/- awards this year, but he’s still (almost) on pace for his first career 50 goal season. He also should surpass his career SOG totals this year, still averaging over 3 per game. You want Vanek to be shooting when lanes are there, and passing up chances like the 2 on 1 in overtime on Monday shouldn’t happen. While the effort is still there and he has great vision on the ice with a clear ability to pass; his true talent is scoring goals. There is a balance that needs to be found, and maybe continuing to play on a line with Connolly will get him shooting again.

Sabres fans want to see Thomas Vanek producing, but it’s clear we’d rather see him scoring goals than setting them up. We’ve talked about a number of possible reasons for the change over the last dozen or so games. We are going to keep an eye on his numbers over the next few weeks, but is there anything else you can think of that we may have missed?

2 Comments

  1. dave in Rocha

    “…but is there anything else you can think of that we may have missed?”

    I think it’s probably as simple as opposing teams realizing that if they let him get shots on net, chances are they’re not going to win the game.

  2. Ryan

    I don’t think it’s that simple, especially when we’ve seen him give up clear chances for shots in an effort to pass. Teams are learning to respect Vanek more, that’s for sure, but we haven’t been playing defensive monsters over the past 11 games.

    Take a look at his shot chart over that span. Just one shot against Chicago and Carolina, and two against Dallas. Not great numbers against middle of the road to bad teams. Teams playing Vanek better is a factor, but not the whole story.