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Jakub Vrana: Snake-Bitten or Something Else?

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A look at a streaky sniper’s current cold spell

New York Islanders v Washington Capitals Photo by Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images

“Jakub Vrana is one of the best pure goal-scorers in hockey.”

Loyal readers of the musings that run in this space might recall that declaration from a March 9 post advocating for a larger role for the still-young Czech forward. Later that night, Vrana provided a microcosm of his season (really, his career), scoring a beauty of a first-period goal, getting benched for most of the third period after a bad line change resulted in a goal against, and then scoring the game-winner in overtime. Ho-hum, uneventful night at the rink for Jake.

Since then, however, Vrana’s play has reflected a lot more downs than ups, as he’s gone six games without a goal, registering three assists and just four shots on goal while averaging 14:23 of ice time (down half a minute from his season average) over that span.

Hey, it happens to streaky sniper types - sometimes seemingly everything you shoot finds the twine, other times... not so much. Heck, this is Vrana’s third five-plus game goalless streak of the season already (he had five- and six-game droughts earlier), and he ended each of those runs with goals in back-to-back games. Yes, of course he is still very much “one of the best pure goal-scorers in hockey,” this cold snap notwithstanding.

That said, a closer look at Vrana’s last six-pack of matches (and more) reveal that it’s not just “puck luck” that’s keeping him off the score sheet: Vrana’s expected goal rate - both at five-on-five and all situations - has bottomed out. Here’s a look at his five-game rolling per-60 xiG:

via MoneyPuck

In the six games since Vrana beat the Devils in overtime, Vrana has had one high-danger scoring chance, and that came on the power play. He has two - count ‘em - shots on goal at five-on-five, where he’s been so incredibly dangerous over the years. In fact, his individual offensive productivity at five-on-five over the last half-dozen games is among the worst on the team of the skaters who played all six games:

data via NatStatTrick

It’s not all bad - Vrana’s primary assist rate over this stretch is tops on the team (with both of them coming in the first two games of the set). But Jakub Vrana should be among this team’s top goal-scorers (and, in aggregate, he is), and over the last four games he has one shot on goal at five-on-five and nary a high-danger scoring chance.

To add more context to these numbers, let’s take a look at Vrana’s most common linemates in each of these games:

data via NatStatTrick

Well that’s certainly... interesting. Even more interesting, over the course of the season, Vrana has been pretty good with both centers:

via NatSTatTrick

So is Vrana-Sprong the problem? Actually (and perhaps surprisingly)... no:

via MoneyPuck

The bottom line here is that these are small samples of a terrific player on a good team that’s been winning despite an individual bump in the road for Vrana. While the timing may be curious and our imaginations love to run wild (He’s pissed at getting benched! He’s focusing on his defense!), it’s nothing to worry about - Jakub Vrana will be back on track in no time.