The only thing more heartbreaking than losing Game 2 to the Colorado Kroenke’s Avalanche was seeing a less-than-whole Vladimir Tarasenko exist as a non-factor in a playoff game.
Not-so-fun fact: Wednesday night represented the first postseason game where Tarasenko didn’t record a single shot on goal since April 20, 2015. It’s been that long since the charismatic Russian winger failed to unleash a single wrist shot on goal.
Let’s face it. It’s nearly fantasy to imagine Tarasenko going to the net to pick up dirty goals these days. Head coach Craig Berube can say it all he wants and continue to deliver that media message to his player, but he’s not going to do it. It takes a certain kind of veteran coach to be able to transform a sniper, like Ken Hitchcock did with Brett Hull in Dallas. Hull may have played on two torn hamstrings once upon a time, but he didn’t have three shoulder surgeries… on the same shoulder.
Tarasenko looks tentative out there, skating around and chipping in on some plays, but no longer requiring an extra set of eyes on the ice in the offensive zone. It’s not hard to remember those fiery days with #91 at the dot. If he got there and received the puck with even a little time to unleash a shot, forget about it. This was a guy who routinely fired 3-5 shots at Ben Bishop and Tuukka Rask a couple of years ago. Now, he’s not even a threat.
At just 29 years old, there’s still time left for a comeback. As a sage hockey mind mentioned to me on Twitter this morning, a regular offseason of hockey training-as opposed to rehab-will do him some good.
It was just last August when the third surgery was ordered, rendering the player immobile for at least five months. Then he rejoins a team in transition and desperately scrambling for a playoff spot, which leaves little time to find rhythm or confidence out there.
I’m not a hockey expert, but finding your step in March and April isn’t exactly easy work. Then again, how much firepower will Tarasenko have next year if he keeps relying on the same tricks to score? Berube isn’t just ranting when he urges the guy to hit the net. Later in a career, most snipers have to adapt–or they become jobless. Tarasenko isn’t close to that point,
Since his last productive season ended nearly two years ago, Tarasenko has tallied seven goals and 24 points in 34 games. That’s nothing to write home about, especially when you compare it to his usual output, but it’s not horrible either. But his shooting percentage was only 6.2%, which is half of where it needs to be. If he’s not shooting much or going to the net, Tarasenko is a non-factor out there. As much as I have praised his defense in years past, he isn’t moving into Selke’s neighborhood anytime soon.
Endgame: Don’t expect much this spring from Tarasenko, even if the Blues miraculously come back against the Avs and soldier on in the postseason. I don’t think he can flip the switch like that, unless the march continues into the first two weeks of June. It could take just a single goal to get the monkey off his back, or it could take a few months of hardcore strength and conditioning.
I just hope he gets one last effective hurrah in St. Louis. This year? Next year, perhaps? Something to remind fans who he once was and how deadly he could be on a 200 foot sheet of ice.
Wednesday night surely wasn’t it. That was diet Tarasenko. We need the full-throttle caffeinated version back. With him in top gear, the Blues are a completely different team. Without him, especially at the moment, they are considerably less.
Confession: I want Vladimir Tarasenko to burn out instead of fade away. Is it possible? Only time, and many shifts, will tell. The prognosis isn’t doom and gloom just yet due to his age, which is still tender.
Have we seen the last of the great #91? As another good follower said, you may want to at least buy a ticket for that train this summer.