Canadiens' Vanek demoted to fourth-line at practice

May 21, 11:24 AM

Montreal Canadiens winger and highly-regarded pending unrestricted free-agent Thomas Vanek has had a rough go of it this postseason, despite the team's underdog run to the Eastern Conference final. 

Vanek's effort has been called out by head coach Michel Therrien, he's been ineffective and unlucky, and he's managed just five goals and eight points in 13 playoff games.

On Wednesday morning at Canadiens' practice, Vanek took line-rushes on Montreal's fourth-line. Actually, he took line-rushes as perhaps Montreal's 13th forward per's Arpon Basu:

Vanek had a particularly feeble outing in Montreal's 3-1 loss to the Rangers in Game 2. Though the team as a whole was only outshot 27-26 at even-strength in Game 2, with Vanek on the ice they were outshot 9-4. Beyond one tough game, the Canadiens have been outscored with Vanek on the ice at evens during the Stanley Cup playoffs, and have controlled a paltry 44.7% of five-on-five shot attempts. 

Despite Vanek's postseason struggles, the Austrian sniper is still one of the best - if not the single best - shooter in the game. Facing the impenetrable goaltending of Henrik Lundqvist, that's the type of player a team desperate for goals might find helpful.

Feature photo courtesy of Rick Osentoski / USA TODAY Sports

Jun 2, 4:58 PM

Vanek on postseason struggles: 'I struggled to find myself with a new line'

Jun 2, 4:58 PM

Montreal Canadiens forward and pending unrestricted free agent Thomas Vanek capped off an impressive 68-point season with an underwhelming showing in the Canadiens' run to the Eastern Conference final. Vanek, one of the games elite snipers, managed only 5 goals in 17 games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and worse, when he was on the ice at even strength, the Canadiens were outscored by their opponents. 

It wasn't just a run of bad luck that afflicted Vanek - his shot rate atrophied from over three-per-game in the regular season to 1.64 in the playoffs, and it wasn't injuries. He was simply ineffective, which is why Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien demoted him to the fourth line for critical games in the Western Conference final.

"I’m not a guy who looks back," Vanek told the Montreal Gazette on Sunday, "I’m not blaming anyone but myself."

Elaborating on his struggles, Vanek explained that once he was demoted from Montreal's top line with David Desharnais and Max Pacioretty, his game went into the tank. Those issues were, in Vanek's estimation, compounded by an inability to find chemistry with linemate Tomas Plekanec (maybe they couldn't agree on whether or not their first name should be spelled with an "h"):

I’m a big believer in chemistry. I started in Buffalo and I went to the Island, where I got comfortable with Johnny (Tavares) and (Kyle) Okposo (with the New York Islanders) and our line took off and then your game takes off. When I first got here, I struggled a bit and then I got moved to Davey (Desharnais) and Patch (Max Pacioretty) and I think as a line we were great, one of the best lines.

Then I got taken off and I struggled to find myself with a new line. I played with (Tomas Plekanec) for most of the playoffs and it didn’t work. We are, I believe, both very good players, but it didn’t work. We’re not on the same page, just different games.

[H/T Puck Daddy]

Feature photo courtesy of Gary A. Vasquez / USA TODAY Sports

May 22, 7:50 PM

Canadiens' Vanek will start Game 3 vs. Rangers on 4th line

May 22, 7:50 PM

The Montreal Canadiens made a splash prior to the trade deadline by adding an offensively gifted Thomas Vanek, but it appears as though he will start Game 3 against the New York Rangers further down the depth chart than he's used to.

Per Chris Johnston of Sportsnet, Vanek will start the game on the team's fourth line with Daniel Briere and Brandon Prust.

Vanek recorded one shot on goal in the first two games of the series while averaging only 12:23 of ice time, well below his usual deployment rate.

Don't expect him to stay on the fourth line if he shows signs of life early on at Madison Square Garden.

May 3, 11:09 AM

Thomas Vanek under scrutiny as Canadiens coach talks of the need for work ethic

May 3, 11:09 AM

BOSTON - Michel Therrien said he wasn't taking about one player. But it sure sounded like he was.

Asked Saturday before Game 2 against the Bruins about what he can do to get more out of a player like Thomas Vanek, the Canadiens coach did not mince words.

"It's not about Thomas Vanek," he said, before seemingly taking aim at the Austrian winger who was minus-one and had no shots on goal in Game 1.

"One thing that's not negotiable with our team ... work ethic is not negotiable, attitude is not negotiable and competing is not negotiable. This is something we ask from every player on our hockey team. We have to make sure that everyone brings those elements to every single shift and every single game.

"It's not about one player," he added. "I'm not talking about one player. Because you can't judge a player with points and goals ... As a coach sometimes you have to make an adjustment regarding things that are not negotiable."

The Habs won a 4-3 decision in Game 1 in double overtime. But they were outplayed by Boston and needed a remarkable performance by Carey Price in goal to stay in the game.

Therrien juggled his lines, expressing satisfaction later only with the trio of Lars Eller, Rene Bourque and Brian Gionta.

In five playoff games prior to Saturday, the Habs' top line of Max Pacioretty, David Desharnais and Vanek had combined for three goals and four assists.

Vanek was dropped from the No. 1 line for part of Thursday's game and saw 18 minutes 58 seconds of ice time Thursday, compared to 22:33 for Desharnais and 23:33 for Pacioretty.

On Thursday, Therrien did mention Vanek by name.

"There's a few players on our team who I believe need to step up our game regarding (Thursday night) and he's one of them," Therrien told reporters. "I'm not here to mention any names but as a group we've got to be better and we will.

"I'm not worried and we're glad that we've got Thomas Vanek in our lineup because he can be a dangerous guy to the other teams."

The 30-year-old Vanek, acquired from the Islanders in early March, did not shy away from the issue.

"Last night as a line, even as a team, I don't think we played well. I think Carey carried us the whole game and then stole us the game," he said Thursday. "Subbie (P.K. Subban) stepped up and had a big goal. I think we're not ignorant (of the need) for us being better as a line and myself as an individual."

Vanek, who is eligible for free agency this summer, is the Habs' highest-earner this season at US$6.4 million.

He has 277 goals and 279 assists for 556 points in 663 regular season NHL games.

May 2, 11:21 PM

Canadiens' Vanek on series vs. Bruins: 'We’re up a game, which we shouldn’t be'

May 2, 11:21 PM

Montreal Canadiens forward Thomas Vanek was largely ineffective in Thursday's Game 1 double overtime victory over the Boston Bruins, held pointless while failing to register a shot on goal in just under 19 minutes of ice time. 

His team won on the strength of 48 saves by goaltender Carey Price, and Vanek offered this frank assessment of the effort in the series opener.

“We’re up a game, which we shouldn't be," he told the Montreal Gazette. "That’s good. Now we need to step up and help Carey.”

Head coach Michel Therrien echoed that sentiment, adding he needs more from his best players - and specifically Vanek - in order to succeed against the Bruins.

"There’s a few players on our team who I believe need to step up their game and (Vanek) is one of them,” he said. “I’m not here to mention names but as a group, we need to be better and we will be. I’m not worried. The good news is, we found a way to win. I’m glad we have Vanek in our lineup. He can be a dangerous guy (against) other teams."

In five playoff games, Vanek scored one goal, added two assists and registered 11 shots on goal, and acknowledges the team needs more from himself and linemates Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais.

“We know as guys and as a team that we dodged a bullet [in Game 1] and we got away with one," he said. "All of us, certainly our line, we’ve been around long enough that we know we have to be better.”

Game 2 is set for Saturday at 12:30 EST.