Vanek's off-puck play becoming an issue?

The Habs pulled out a Game 1 win against the B's, despite limited playing time from Thomas Vanek. Eric Bolte/USA TODAY Sports

One of the interesting subplots to the Montreal Canadiens' impressive 4-3 Game 1 win over the Boston Bruins on Thursday night is they essentially did it without Thomas Vanek.

The game extended into two overtimes and yet Vanek played just 18:58 -- 23 seconds less than he averaged per game during the regular season. All but three Canadiens forwards played more than he did in the win.

Looking Ahead


As teams are eliminated from the postseason, Craig Custance breaks down the big questions facing them this offseason:

• San Jose must consider moving on from Antti Niemi.

• Colorado should try to retain both Paul Stastny and Ryan O'Reilly.

• The Flyers should bring back veteran defenseman Kimmo Timonen.

The decision on impending RFA Ryan Johansen looms for Columbus.

• What should the Stars' take the next step be?

• The Blues should go with Jake Allen in goal.

• Which big free agents should the Red Wings sign?

• Is Ryan Callahan part of the Lightning's future?

The lines were shuffled perhaps to make it harder to have Zdeno Chara against the Canadiens' skill players, although Vanek spent the overtimes with his regular linemates Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais.

After the game, coach Michel Therrien confirmed that Vanek wasn’t hurt.

“We were looking for combinations that would help us win the game,” he said, according to NHL.com’s Arpon Basu.

The Canadiens won this game but they’ll need a motivated and effective Vanek to pull off the upset. Boston controlled 65.4 percent of the shot attempts at even strength, the kind of dominant performance that typically results in a series win if it continues.

Before the playoffs began, one NHL scout wondered if there would be a point where Therrien and Vanek butted heads, noting that his play without the puck sometimes can drive a coach like Therrien crazy.

I asked for an example from a regular-season Montreal game the scout had attended.

“Early in the first period, there’s a faceoff in Montreal’s end,” the scout explained. “His responsibility is getting out to the point. The puck drops, he looks around and he heads out to the point man who has received the puck. Nowadays, everybody takes the lane between the puck and the goaltenders. It’s almost a must-do. Here [Vanek] is, he doesn’t take the lane between the puck and the goal, he is not coming close to blocking the shot. The shot goes to the net, a guy puts in the rebound and it’s in the net. That’s what drives coaches crazy. Coaches don’t miss that [stuff]. Then he scores a highlight-film goal, but the coach is going ‘He’s even because he cost us a goal.’”