Thomas Vanek was so confident on Monday, he was asking for the puck when the other team had it.
He did it at least twice, once in the first period inside the Canucks zone when a defenseman had the puck. The second time was a little over halfway through overtime when he pretended to be a Vancouver trailer at the point, tapping his stick on the ice like a madman. It didn’t work either time, but it was the first time in a while I can remember Vanek trying that schtick.
Now if Vanek tried that crap during pickup hockey, you would laugh and call him a jerk. Maybe it would work once or twice on someone who didn’t recognize the voice, or a new kid you’re giving a hard time. Still, eventually he would know better, and that was that.
But that’s the real world, and this is the National Hockey League. Unlike the pickup games you and I play, when Thomas Vanek pretends to be on the other team he’s at his best. When he’s out there doing goofy things, that’s when Thomas Vanek is just right.
Vanek is unique, that’s for sure. No one seems to find an apt comparison between Vanek and any other player in the league, let alone on the Sabres. he’s not Miroslav Satan, he’s not Chris Drury and he’s certainly much different than any of the players currently on the roster.
And that’s not always a good thing. Vanek is streaky and his actions are often inexplicable. He will have a few games where he is the best player on the ice, then go for what seems like weeks without hitting the net.
That’s why I think what happened on Monday is so important. It’s something I said after Vanek’s overtime goal against Washington on Saturday: It’s not what he did on Saturday, it’s what happens next.
Well, what happened was Thomas Vanek dominated on Monday night. He set up three of the four goals and played with the confidence we non-athletes dream of. Vanek played one of the best games of his career, maybe the best game since his natural hat trick against Tampa Bay all those years ago.
That game got a lot of people (me included) excited about Thomas Vanek, and he played extremely well to end the season. That momentum even carried into the next fall, and that’s where we really learned about Vanek’s peaks and valleys. When things are wrong, look out below. When they are right, hold on and see where Vanek can take us.
With the Sabres treading water early in the season, we want more than anything for Vanek to take over and prove us right once again. When Vanek becomes Atlas, this team wins and wins with style.
Last night showed us that the Sabres aren’t out of deep waters just yet. The defense still needs work and slow starts seem to kill them, but they showed signs that things are getting better. The Sabres can now win games at home, and they have quite a few of those coming up.
What we’ve learned over the past few games is that hope isn’t lost on this team. There is talent and potential in this group that a lot of people forgot about over the first dozen or so games this season. People may laugh at the “Fire Lindy” talk in hindsight, but the motivation behind that argument was not getting rid of a good coach but sparking an underachieving hockey team.
Lindy Ruff hoped that spark would come organically, and he admitted just that after the Bruins disaster. Maybe that spark was Vanek scoring on Saturday, and maybe Vanek can continue to be that spark while Myers gets things together and Miller gets back to form.
I still believe what I said on Saturday: This could be a very different season by the time we hit the dinner table at Thanksgiving. I know I’m not invited over, but I’m getting much more excited about talking turkey these days.