MONTREAL – After going five games and 20 shots without a goal, Thomas Vanek broke out in a big way against the Avs. Is that an exception, or the rule?
Without a doubt, a natural goal scorer running hot is a sight to behold. On March 18, 2014, Vanek converted on two chances from the high slot before tipping home an Alexei Emelin point shot to draw a wild ovation from the Bell Centre faithful. The Austrian’s ninth career hat trick, his first of 2013-14, elicited a mix of joy and relief from Habs fans, the team’s coaching staff and, most importantly, from Vanek himself. Indeed, the pressure had been mounting after the deadline acquisition was limited to a single assist in five games since joining the Canadiens.
Looking at the record books, we can see that the former 43-goal man has been one of the most explosive goal scorers in the NHL in recent years. Only five other NHLers have turned the trick more often than Vanek since the University of Minnesota alumnus broke into the league in 2005. Current Hab Daniel Briere is also well-ranked on the chart with his five hat tricks since 2007.
Hat tricks since 2005
Feast and famine
As any aspiring sniper can attest, scoring on a consistent basis can be a tricky proposition. Sometimes everything you touch turns to gold, but other times, you just can’t seem to buy a goal. Beer leaguers and aspiring superstars may be relieved to know that even the best players in the world are not immune to the same problem. While it is always possible for more talented offensive players to score more often, the truth of the matter is, even the best in the business go home empty-handed more often than not. Through March 19, Vanek has scored all of his 24 regular season goals in just 19 games while going scoreless in the remaining 47. Meanwhile, Max Pacioretty has his 30 in 20 match-ups despite suiting up 61 times in 2013-14.
This phenomenon, which seems to adhere to the Pareto Principle (A.K.A. the 80-20 rule) persists across players and seasons. Vanek’s last 40-goal season followed a similar pattern: the Austrian potted 40 goals in 29 games and did not light the lamp in the other two-thirds of his season.
All that being said, this does not mean that there is anything wrong with Vanek and Pacioretty; their goal totals and prodigious shot-per-game outputs indicate that they are both elite offensive threats. The American is currently sixth in the league with 3.7 average shots per game, behind only Alex Ovechkin, Corey Perry, Phil Kessel, Sidney Crosby and Tyler Seguin – not bad company. Meanwhile, Vanek is 17th overall (3.2 shots per game) but has put up 4.2 shots per game since becoming a Hab. Over the course of a season, that rate would be second only to Ovechkin’s across the NHL.
As Vanek’s big night suggests, it should be accepted as a fact of life that snipers run hot and cold. But as long as they’re shooting the puck, expect good things to happen in due time.
Jack Han is a writer for canadiens.com.
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