Red Wings' Thomas Vanek hopes offensive outburst a sign of things to come

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Philadelphia — So far, it hasn’t been the season Thomas Vanek envisioned for himself, nor has it been what the Red Wings expected of Vanek.

When they signed Vanek on July 1 to a one-year contract worth $3 million, it was with the hope Vanek would put up the numbers he did with the Red Wings two years ago, and with Vancouver and Columbus last season.

Red Wings forward Thomas Vanek, shown here against the Maple Leafs, had a goal and two assists Saturday night against the Islanders, snapping an eight-game goal-scoring drought.

Roughly speaking, that's about 15-20 goals and 45-50 points. That’s a typical Vanek season, which is ideal production for a 34-year-old offensively gifted veteran wing.

But it hasn’t gone that way.

Saturday’s three-point night — Vanek had a goal and two assists in a 4-3 shootout loss to the New York Islanders — ended an eight-game goal-scoring drought and bumped his totals to four goals and 10 assists (14 points) on the season.

“He creates lot of chances for our team, he’s dangerous when he’s out there,” said forward Gustav Nyquist, one of the beneficiaries of Vanek’s assists. “He’s a good pro, so smart in the offensive zone. It’s nice to see him get rewarded.”

More than anything, the Wings hope the game ignites a Vanek turnaround.

With injuries mounting, including goal-scoring winger Anthony Mantha, the Wings need someone to replace the missing offense.

“Goal scorers like scoring, so hopefully this goal helps,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “He played real hard the last couple nights. He just has to keep playing hard and sticking with it.”

Injuries haven’t helped.

Vanek missed almost three weeks after a knee-on-knee collision Oct. 30 in Columbus. Since returning, Vanek has been trying to catch up as far as speed and timing, while not getting the ice time (13 minutes, 20 seconds average) that helps him do so.

In 14 games since returning from the knee injury, Vanek has two goals and seven assists.

“It helped,” Vanek said of Saturday’s offensive breakthrough. “I still would like to play more and stuff, but you have to play better, too. There’s always two sides to it. It’s a team sport. Your job is individually, obviously, but for me as an older guy I have to make sure I bring a good attitude and a good example for these younger guys.”

To do so, Vanek has tried to keep the negative away as much as possible.

“You stay positive,” Vanek said. “I’m here to help out these young guys. If they see me pouting around and not smiling, not having fun, then it’s going to have a bad effect on them. I’m a pro. I have to come in here and I know I have to be better.

“Just work each and every day and be positive and hopefully it’s going to come again.”

Watching Vanek recently, Blashill sees a player who is attempting to create something that’s sometimes isn’t there.

Vanek is known for his instincts and creativity in the offensive end. But that can also be an issue when he’s forcing something that simply isn’t there.

“For me, I felt like he’s tried to make plays that aren’t always there,” Blashill said. “He has to take that extra second to make sure he makes the play. That’s been the message I’ve given to him.

“He’s done a better job of that here lately. Space closes off, and he’s trying to make a play and sometimes he’s rushing it. He just has to take that extra second, make sure makes the play, and if it closes off, it closes off.

“He’s a real smart hockey player and he relies on that, he’s good at it. You just have to stay with it and keep grinding. He’s been around a long time. He’ll be fine.”

New coach

The Wings will face a Philadelphia Flyers team with a new head coach.

Dave Hakstol was fired Monday and replaced by Scott Gordon, who was coaching the Flyers’ minor league team.

The Flyers are last place in the Eastern Conference entering Monday's games with a 12-15-4 record (28 points), sitting 10 points out of a playoff spot.

The Flyers also promoted highly-touted prospect, goaltender Carter Hart, from the minor leagues to stabilize a troubling position.

Hart will be the sixth goaltender the Flyers use this season.

Zadina update

General manager Ken Holland believes top prospect Filip Zadina will be able to head to the world junior tournament later this week.

Zadina suffered a hamstring injury Saturday in Grand Rapids, missed Sunday’s game, but is considered day-to-day. The tournament doesn’t start until Dec. 26. Zadina will play for his native Czech Republic.

Red Wings at Flyers

Faceoff: 7 p.m. Tuesday, Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia

TV/radio: Fox Sports Detroit/97.1 FM

Outlook: The Flyers (12-15-4, 28 points) will have a new head coach (Scott Gordon) and new goaltender (Carter Hart) after big changes Monday. … The Flyers have struggled in various ways, and a poor western Canada road trip cost Dave Hakstol his head coaching job. … C Claude Giroux (28 assists, 39 points) and C Sean Couturier (13 goals) make this a dangerous offensive team.

Twitter @tkulfan