The Buffalo Sabres let another game slip through their grasp yesterday, a 4-3 defeat at the hands of the previously winless on the road Florida Panthers.  There is plenty of blame to go around for the atrocious start to the season, but one person who should be absolved of all responsibility is Thomas Vanek.  In the loss to Florida Vanek tacked on 3 more points, adding to his league leading total of 19pts in 8 games played and his NHL best 11 assists.  It’s not just the totals that are impressive, and they are, but it’s the way he’s gotten here.

These aren’t cheap secondary assists he’s racking up, or tap-ins from the side of the net.  Vanek is imposing his will on opponents on a nightly basis.  His behind the back feed to Jason Pominville in Carolina, or his Bobby Orr esque pass in flight to Tyler Ennis against Boston are the kind of game changing plays all fans of the blue and gold have been waiting for out of Thomas.

We’ve all heard the stat on his 5 point games, how he’s only the second player in NHL history (Mario Lemiuex 92-93) to post multiple 5 point games in his team’s first 7 games of the season.  Thomas Vanek has also managed to register at least one point in each of the Sabres games in which he’s played this season.  The numbers are nice, but what we’re seeing out of him on the ice is incredible.  For the first time since the Sabres matched Kevin Lowe’s ridiculous offer sheet of 7yrs/$50mil in 2007, Thomas looks like one of the most dominant forwards in the game.

Thomas’s game is a beautiful amalgamation of hockey intellect and grit. He doesn’t have the puck dangling skills of Pavel Datsyuk, the wheels like Zach Parise, or the vision of Sidney Crosby, but he makes use of his keen sense of positioning better than anyone in the league.  Vanek has a sixth sense about him, always knowing where to park in front of the net to best gain position on the defender, all the while keeping his stick blade in the shooting lane for a deflection or a rebound.  Thomas is also crafty at using the boards as a linemate, chipping pucks by the opposition and using his quickness (different than pure speed) to retrieve his own passes en route to the net.  His passing game has come a long way since his rookie season, he has not only become one of the better playmakers on the Sabres, but he has mastered the art of drawing the defenders towards him and finding the uncovered linemate in the slot.

The punishment Thomas takes in front of the net cannot be taken lightly.  Vanek will never be confused for a bully, but his net front presence has established him as one of the toughest forwards in the game.  Constantly getting pushed and prodded by the toughest customers on the opposing team night in and night out takes a toll on the body, but it’s a price Thomas is willing to pay for this team.  The Sabres have been devoid of leadership for some time, and perhaps the most important thing Vanek has accomplished this season to date is giving this organization someone to follow.  Thomas’s game is oozing with confidence, and that should be contagious throughout the lineup.  If the other men in that locker room aren’t inspired by what they’re seeing out of Vanek, then that’s a sad indictment on the mental toughness of this team.

The Sabres can’t count on Vanek registering 5 point games on a nightly basis, and although he has put the offense on his back, Thomas can’t be expected to stop pucks as well.  Vanek is a +7 on the season, but this team has some serious defensive deficiencies. Even with all world performances out of the Austrian dynamo, Buffalo will struggle to get into the win column until they receive secondary scoring, and can cut down on the defensive lapses.  Despite this, Vanek’s impact should not be minimized as he has single-handedly won them 2 contests this season, and kept them in others.

Even though his career totals are all starting to creep into the upper tiers of Sabres history, save for the 2006-07 season we haven’t seen enough dynamic performances out of Thomas to put his name up in conversations with the likes of Dave Andreychuk, Alexander Mogilny, Danny Gare, or Rick Martin.  This season Thomas’s incredible start is beginning to silence all of his critics and justify his place among the league’s elite, and in Sabres history.

Does Thomas Vanek belong in the pantheon of Sabres goal scoring greats yet? Let me know on twitter: @Sabrehess

All Images Courtesy of Getty Images

The post It May Be Time to Panic, For Everyone Except Vanek appeared first on Queen City Sports.