Vrbata developing a knack for clutch goals

Associated Press  |  Last updated February 25, 2012
(Eds: With AP Photos.) By JOHN MARSHALL AP Sports Writer Sitting in front of his locker, Radim Vrbata whips a roll of tape around the handle of his stick, working his way toward the end, where a few extra layers create a knob for better grip. The way he's been playing, Vrbata could coat his stick in soap and probably still find a way to get the puck in the net. In the midst of a career season, Vrbata has provided the surging Phoenix Coyotes with clutch goal-scoring and steady, heady play at both ends of the ice. ''Vrby is a really good player, a really skilled player,'' Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. ''The one thing he's done this season is turn into a go-to guy.'' Vrbata has been a solid, under-the-radar type of player during his 10-year NHL career, eclipsing 25 points in every season but one. He's been consistent in his second go-round with the Coyotes as well, with 24 goals and 19 assists in 2009-10, 19 goals and 29 assists last season. This year, the 30-year-old right wing from the Czech Republic has possibly been Phoenix's best player, setting his career high with 30 goals while closing in on his career best for points with 52 in the first 61 games. But it's not just that Vrbata is scoring. It's when he's been doing it. Vrbata is tied with Detroit's Johan Franzen for the NHL lead with 10 game-winning goals, including four in a six-game stretch as the Coyotes climbed from 12th to seventh in the Western Conference and into a tie with San Jose atop the Pacific Division. Game-winning goals can be misleading; someone scores in the first period, it holds up for two more, the goal becomes a game-winner. But Vrbata has had a knack for finding the net at just the right time. He patiently waited for Dallas goalie Kari Lehtonen to commit before scoring in overtime of Phoenix's 2-1 win last Saturday, then had the tying goal with less than 3 minutes left in regulation of Phoenix's shootout win over the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday. ''When you're scoring, things are going well, you try things that maybe you wouldn't try if you weren't scoring or playing well,'' Vrbata said. ''I think it goes hand-in-hand and right now it seems like they're just finding me at the right time or I'm at the right place at the right time.'' Vrbata's game isn't just about scoring big goals, though. Early in his career, he was known for being crafty with the puck and scoring goals, not much else. As the years have gone by, Vrbata has become more versatile, developing into a two-way player who's just as steady inside his own blue line as he is rushing across the other team's. He also understands his role with the Coyotes, providing goals for a team that likes to grind out low-scoring games while still staying mindful of Tippett's defensive approach. ''One thing about Vrby, he's a quiet player, a quiet person, but thoughtful, very well-respected in our room,'' Tippett said. ''One of his roles is to score for us and he takes that responsibility very seriously, and obviously he's done a very good job of that this year.'' Vrbata's breakout season has keyed Phoenix's ''Prime Line'' - him on the right, Martin Hanzal at center and 39-year-old Ray Whitney left. Whitney has been an ageless wonder this season, a grizzled, creative veteran who has lived up to his nickname of ''The Wizard'' with jaw-dropping plays nearly every night and a team-leading 56 points. Hanzal, an assistant captain, has been hampered off and on by injuries, but is dynamic for a big man, scoring goals and setting up his linemates. Vrbata has been the finisher, leading the team in goals. Combined, the trio has 55 goals and 80 assists, making it one of the most productive lines in the league. ''That line has been phenomenal for us,'' Coyotes captain Shane Doan said. ''When you have a line like that, you want to ride it as long as it can. It's been huge for us having somebody scoring the way he (Vrbata) has.'' One thing that isn't likely to happen is for Vrbata to get caught up in his success. He's been around too long and knows how quickly things can change. As a rookie with Colorado in 2001-02, Vrbata had 18 goals and 12 assists in the regular season and all but disappeared in the playoffs, scoring no points in nine games. This season, he caused some grumbling after opening with one goal in the first nine games, then had two in each of the next two games. Vrbata kept on scoring after that, putting together a career year that could vault the Coyotes into the playoffs for the third straight season. ''You don't want to think about it too much, you just want to roll with it,'' Vrbata said. ''At the same time, I had some games where I wasn't scoring, so you can't get too high or too low. You just want to keep in middle and try to play the same way, see what happens.''
GET THE YARDBARKER APP:
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Son of former NFL player Antonio Armstrong charged with death of parents

U.S. Senator “appalled” by Bettman’s stance on concussions

Team USA’s Opening Ceremony uniforms look a little treasonous

Lawyer who reps concussion lawsuit wants to speak with Bettman

Tyler Eifert says he will never play in the Pro Bowl again

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Australian athletes evacuate the Olympic village after fire

Russian weightlifting team banned from Rio

Wade says Riley did not push him out of Miami

Nationals among multiple teams inquiring on Mark Melancon

McClain does not show up for Cowboys’ training camp

Andre Johnson agrees to two-year deal with Titans

Can Andre Johnson end his regression in Tennessee?

Favre opens up about painkiller addiction during career

Miami women’s basketball coach criticizes Texas A&M following slideshow

Twin Cities preparing for influx of sex trafficking during Super Bowl LII

WATCH: Bautista bat flip will be available as NHL 17 celebration

Former USMNT, current MLS forward Davies battled cancer, in remission

The definitive guide to U.S. Men's Basketball at Rio 2016

Tony Romo training camp picture leads to fat jokes, concern

Matt Cullen’s family eats cereal out of the Stanley Cup

Texas A&M suspends coaches for sexist slideshow

10 most dangerous college football defenders in 2016

Is it time to start taking West Ham seriously?

NHL News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
the YARDBARKER app
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

Dr. Phil calls out the Patriots for their cheating ways

Everything that's already gone wrong at the Rio Olympics

Amar'e Stoudemire's presence (and absence) changed the NBA

We asked Team USA: What other Olympic sport would you play?

Why Gary Bettman's CTE denial is cause for concern for NHL

WATCH: Inside the Nike SNKRS BOX in SF for Golden Air Celebration

WATCH: Five other uniforms Chris Sale should cut up

QUIZ: Name every Olympic event in which the USA has never won a gold medal

Five U.S. Olympians favored to win multiple gold medals

WATCH: What teams should join the Big 12?

Today's Best Stuff
For Publishers
Company Info
Help
Follow Yardbarker