Just under two weeks after being traded for the second time in the 2013-14 campaign, Vanek was already starting to feel the heat in Montreal for failing to find the back of the net. He responded by using his 17:18 workload to score his first, second and third goals as a Hab while helping the Canadiens pull off a 6-3 win over one of the NHL’s hottest teams.
“I thought as a line we had gotten a lot of chances lately and we didn’t get rewarded. I’m glad the coach stuck with us,” shared Vanek, who opened the floodgates with one of the easiest goals of his career, tapping a pretty pass from David Desharnais into a near-empty net to get Montreal on the board. “I thought we made some good plays today, especially Davey and Patch [Max Pacioretty]. They set me up nicely and I could finally finish.”
Silencing his critics with one fell swoop on Tuesday night, the four-time 30-plus goal scorer put on a lamp-lighting clinic against the Avalanche to give Habs fans a firsthand look at the qualities Marc Bergevin was looking for when he traded for the Austrian sniper two weeks ago.
“You have to give a guy time to adapt to his surroundings,” explained Desharnais, who has now racked up 11 points in his last 10 games. “I think Thomas had his share of scoring chances in other games, but he just didn’t connect. Tonight he did. That’s when you see what a great goal scorer he is – he doesn’t need luck to put it in.”
Instead of luck, the 30-year-old forward relied on what the majority of Habs wingers have come to appreciate when they need help breaking out of scoring “slumps” – perfect feeds from Desharnais.
“The chemistry between us was always there, but the points weren’t coming. Tonight he scored three,” recounted Desharnais, who registered his 30th assist of the season on Vanek’s second goal of the night. “If he had just had three chances [and hadn’t scored] we wouldn’t be talking. The chemistry between us has always been there, all we were missing were the stats.”
Despite still calling a hotel room “home” and needing nametags to remember the new faces he’s met around the Bell Centre since moving from Long Island, Vanek is starting to feel more comfortable in his new surroundings, which is good news for the Habs and bad news for opposing netminders.
“I’m getting used to hotels this year,” cracked Vanek, who started the season in Buffalo before being traded to the Islanders in late October. “I’ve walked around the city and it’s great. The last few days I’ve been getting a little more recognized so I’ll probably have to stay in the hotel more. It’s been a tough year overall, moving around. You’re trying to get your first goal with Buffalo and get moved then you’re trying to get your first goal again with a new team and now I’m here trying to get that first one again. The good part is the next day I always look back and think we generated chances, we just didn’t connect. It was a great pass by Davey and it just trickled in.”
Having earned his first opportunity to take a victory lap around the Bell Centre ice to throw pucks into the crowd as the game’s first star, Vanek appreciates the warm reception he’s received in Montreal so far, even if he won’t be able to remember it until he sees the Sportscentre highlights when he gets home.
“I think I kind of blacked out actually,” he confessed with a laugh. “I had the chills. I just wanted to make it quick so I wouldn’t fall and make a fool out of myself out there.”
Deftly deflecting an Alexei Emelin point shot past J-S Giguere to cap off his ninth career NHL hat trick in the third period, the 30-year-old winger was also treated to a chorus of VA-NEK! VA-NEK! VA-NEK! chants from the Bell Centre faithful after the final buzzer – although he wasn’t surprised to see so few hats raining down from the 21,273 in attendance.
“Well it’s pretty cold outside – people don’t want to walk home [hatless],” he joked. “I understand. The crowd was unbelievable. As I’ve said many times before, playing here as a visitor was electric and now being on the home side and getting that first goal which I was really pressing for the last two or three games was nice. Hopefully we can keep it going.”
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.