The Canucks’ home game against the Buffalo Sabres on December 7th was a reminiscent one. Of course, the team honored the iconic West Coast Express line before the game, but that wasn’t the only reason. Radim Vrbata, the team’s MVP award winner of the 2014-15 campaign, looked liked the sniper Vancouver fans had grown accustomed to watching last season.
The 34 year-old Vrbata had three goals for his first hat-trick as a member of the Canucks, and the sixth of his career in a 5-2 win. Vrbata also recorded six shots and a plus-three rating, and six different Canucks players had assists on his goals. He looked like the confident goal scorer that he has been expected to be, which has only appeared in flashes in the 2015-16 season.
Vrbata Looking for Consistency
En route to his team leading 31 goals a season ago, good for the second highest total in his career, Vrbata only twice in the regular season went more than four games without scoring (never more than six). Through 27 games in 2015-16, Vrbata had already gone five or more games without a goal three times, including a nine game scoreless streak from Oct. 30th – Nov. 16.
Vrbata’s nine goals through 27 games is tied for 44th in the NHL, despite being tied for 10th in shots with 97. He also has a minus-14 rating, a total which tied him for second-last in the league and would stand as the lowest in his career.
The Czech sniper was brought in by Jim Benning with a $5 million cap-hit and an expectation to be a top scorer in the Canucks lineup, which Vrbata has been for the most part. Even with his long scoreless streaks, Vrbata’s nine goals still ties him for second on the team through 27 games. Vrbata isn’t known as a stifling defensive forward, and his brutal plus-minus rating this year is a contributing factor to this, as is that he hasn’t finished on scoring chances most nights – he’s had 20 games with at least three or more shots, more than any other Canucks player.
But the team’s 5-2 win over the Sabres at home was a positive step for Vrbata, who had a positive plus-minus rating for only the third time this season. It’s no secret Vancouver has been on a downward slide lately as bad as any team, with a 2-7-3 record in their 12 games prior to the win against Buffalo.
first time in 18 games, #Canucks have taken more than a one-goal lead to 3rd period. Were up 4-2 in ARZ on Oct 30th
— Jeff Paterson (@patersonjeff) December 8, 2015
Canucks Win When Vrbata Scores
In 2014-15, Vancouver was 21-3-4 when Vrbata scored at least one goal. Vrbata’s inconsistent scoring this season has coincided with the Canucks inability to string wins together; Vancouver remarkably hasn’t had more than two straight wins all season through their first 27 games.
Vrbata hasn’t had regular linemates for most of the season amidst a season of transition in the Canucks lineup. Benning brought him on to score, but also to play next the Sedin twins. That hasn’t happened for much of 2015-16, and not since Jannik Hansen’s promotion to the top line in early November.
Apart from playing with Daniel and Henrik, coach Willie Desjardins has put Vrbata on a line with Brandon Sutter, Bo Horvat and Jared McCann at different points. He’s cycled through Sven Baertschi, Chris Higgins and at times in games even Alex Burrows as his wing partner. Vrbata, as a result, hasn’t found much chemistry with his linemates, and all the shuffling has led to inconsistent scoring for the Canucks all season outside of their top line.
Vrbata has scored in bunches all season; of his nine tallies he’s had three goals in four games, three goals in two games, and three goals on December 7th against Buffalo. He certainly hasn’t lost his scoring touch, but even in unfavorable situations, Vrbata will need to return to his scoring ways on a more regular basis this season for the Canucks to win games.