Sunday, April 24, 2016


Breaking down Tarasenko's ice time, what it all 
means; Blues moving on; avoiding the history books

ST. LOUIS -- When the Blues lost a second straight elimination game Saturday, 6-3 at the Chicago Blackhawks, in Game 6 of the Western Conference First Round, much was made once again about the ice time -- or lack thereof -- for leading scorer Vladimir Tarasenko.

Blues fans took to Twitter and various talk forums starting with the 4-3 double overtime Game 5 loss on home ice as a sticking point, using players such as Troy Brouwer, among others, as an example of players getting so much more time than the team's star winger.

And things really escalated when at the end of the second period, a screen-grab was caught with coach Ken Hitchcock saying something to Tarasenko as the Blues were heading towards the locker room and Tarasenko waved his coach off in what appeared to be a sign of some sort of frustration.

It was discovered that Tarasenko, who got only eight seconds of power play time in the Blues' only power play of Game 6, wanted to get on the ice more. But looking at it, Tarasenko had just completed a shift when the penalty was called, and the Blues' second unit had zone time for virtually the entire power play, making it difficult for the top unit to come onto the ice.

"Yeah, what we weighed was, they just came off a long shift, and they were tired," Hitchcock said of Tarasenko and his linemates Jaden Schwartz and Jori Lehtera. "So I was trying to cheat to get time, to give them a rest, but the referee wouldn't let us cheat. So he wanted our players out there right away. But we were trying to cheat to see if we could get a rest. But the group that went out there did a great job. They kept it in there, they had five scoring chances. Did a great job. But what are you going to do? You're not going to take it back into your end and regroup to make a change when you've got it in their end the whole time. And that happened to be the only power play."

Makes sense. But what about playing just 16 minutes 56 seconds? Well, that isn't even Tarasenko's series low. He played 15:14 in a 4-3 victory in Game 4, but that somehow went unnoticed. Wins tend to do that.

"No, I don't think it's ice time related," Hitchcock said of Tarasenko's apparent frustrations. "I think he felt like yesterday he could have helped on that power play. We didn't get a change on the power play because we had the thing in the end all the time, so ... that's what happens when you've got a guy like that that wants to make a difference. I love it, I love it in him."

Teammate Paul Stastny made no big deal about it when asked.

"He's emotional always," Stastny said of Tarasenko. "I think if he's not scoring, if he's scoring he's always emotional. I think that's what makes him such a special player. That part of the game, sometimes ... the top guys want to be out there 60 minutes a game if they could. There's always going to be little things caught in the heat of the moment. Like any good player, I think he shakes it off on the next shift. If he feels anything, he never lets it linger. He's never showed it, he's grown. Little things like that don't bother him."

But let's compare some numbers from not only Tarasenko but those of Blackhawks star players Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

Here are all three players' numbers, including time on ice, power play time, even strength time, shifts and average time per shift:

Tarasenko   TOI    PP    EV    SH  AVG
Game 1 -- 18:30, 3:47, 14:43, 25, 0:44 (OT)
Game 2 -- 16:05, 1:14, 14:51, 26, 0:37
Game 3 -- 16:33, 1:40, 14:19, 29, 0:34
Game 4 -- 15:14, 2:15, 12:59, 27, 0:33
Game 5 -- 21:28, 2:10, 19:18, 41, 0:31 (2OT)
Game 6 -- 16:56, 0:08, 16:48, 27, 0:37

Kane          TOI      PP    EV    SH  AVG
Game 1 -- 22:17, 5:22, 16:55, 24, 0:55 (OT)
Game 2 -- 23:41, 3:20, 20:21, 29, 0:49
Game 3 -- 23:14, 4:50, 18:24, 28, 0:49
Game 4 -- 23:17, 2:23, 19:53, 30, 0:46
Game 5 -- 31:16, 1:39, 29:37, 40, 0:46 (2OT)
Game 6 -- 22:02, 3:26, 18:36, 26, 0:50

Toews         TOI    PP    EV    SH  AVG
Game 1 -- 24:36, 4:55, 17:01, 29, 0:50 (OT)
Game 2 -- 21:00, 3:44, 16:43, 29, 0:43
Game 3 -- 22:20, 4:37, 16:11, 31, 0:43
Game 4 -- 21:00, 1:46, 17:15, 30, 0:42
Game 5 -- 28:43, 0:45, 24:32, 42, 0:41 (2OT)
Game 6 -- 21:10, 3:07, 16:56, 26, 0:48

On average, what sticks out is both Kane and Toews are getting more minutes per game, more power play time, on some instances more shifts and more time per shift, looking at the time even strength, the times look very similar for the most part.

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville likes to use both players for longer shifts, which gives them overall more time, and with the Blackhawks having more power play time, it also boosts their minutes. And in Toews' case, he gets time on the penalty kill, which Tarasenko and Kane don't do often. 

So, what does Hitchcock say to those that want No. 91 to play more?

"It's hard because of the way he plays and the energy that he takes," Hitchcock said. "When you view a player ... knowledgeable hockey people don't look at time, they look at shifts, and shifts matter. He plays a short ice game with short shifts and that impacts his energy. He's a big body that plays a lot, he gets leaned on, he leans on a lot of people. It's very wearing. The game he plays is a physical game: it's at the puck, it's around the puck, it's one-on-one and its' very demanding.

"He's not going to be a 48-, 49-second hockey player, not and be effective. He's a guy that has to play in short bursts and that's what he does. He plays great in shorts bursts so his energy stays high."

Tarasenko may get shorter shifts, but he gets ample amounts of them.

"What did he have, 28, 30 shifts last night," Hitchcock said. "That's a lot of shifts and the ice time ... if you looked at it and you had 50 seconds on it instead of 33, well that's a 23-minute player - which is incredible. But he's not able to play that way ... maybe at 28 or 29 he can play that way or whatever, but he's a young guy who plays a big man's game that's physically demanding, especially at this time of the year.

"I had him 11 or 12 shifts in the third period. You just can't put a guy out on the ice any more than that, but he's a short-shift guy so you've just got to live with it. 
He plays a lot of shifts, but they're not long."

Tarasenko has been used as a penalty killer during the regular season, but the Blues know exactly what his forte is.

"As he gets older, he's going to be able to do that," Hitchcock said. "Toews is up there because he kills penalties."

But with a winner-take-all Game 7 set for the Blues and Blackhawks set for Monday (7:30 p.m.; FS-MW, KYKY 98.1-FM), could Tarasenko get more time?

"I'm not going to tell the opposition how much and when we're going to play him," Hitchcock said. "That'll be up to me."

* Forget about it -- The Blues were blitzed by the Blackhawks with three second-period goals to give Chicago a 10-3 edge, and two more in the third period to run away and erase the Blues' 3-1 deficit on Saturday.

But knowing that Game 7 is all set for Monday, the Blues spent Sunday getting their focus for geared towards winning the series.

But there was some explaining to do. What happened in that second period?

"It was just a letdown," said Brouwer, who will play in his seventh straight Game 7. "We had a great opportunity, put ourselves in a great spot to win the series and they didn't go quietly. They caught us off-guard a little bit. We're unhappy with our effort in the second period and it cost us winning that game, but the good news is we're all smiles in here today getting ready for tomorrow's game.

"... We came in after the first period and we were very excited. I think the emotions were maybe a little bit high and then we might have got caught off-guard a little bit in the second period, but that's not going to happen again."

Stastny said it was a case of not being ready.

"I think they came at us and we got caught on our heels a little bit," Stastny said. "We had a two-goal lead, it's almost like a different mind-set. There's still a lot of time left, we knew that wasn't going to be enough but they just kept bringing it to us. We've got to be more composed and support each other a little more, and i think we got away from that. I think we were trying to do too many individual plays and that's the way they want to play it. They kind of kept taking it to us and next thing you know they're up 4-3 and we had some chances to tie it up in the third and then they got that power play goal to kind of seal it.

"It's early in the game. If you're up two with a couple minutes left in the third, it's a different killer instinct. It's a 60-minute game, they're not going to quit. Two-goal leads in this NHL since the lockout aren't what they used to be. It's always a tough environment to play in. We were trying to get that next one knowing it was going to be the most important one but we couldn't do it. We've just got to find a way to settle down the whole bench, everybody sort of working together. That's what happens sometimes when you play in a hostile environment like that you start watching a little too much instead of supporting each other and that's what we did a little bit. Some of us didn't want the puck. You just need to kind of calm it down a little bit, get that pressure back in their zone  and kind of get a sustained shift and we couldn't get that."

Hitchcock doesn't see any hangover. He was asked about it Sunday.

"With the players or with me," he said laughing. "With the players? No. When I got on the flight, I was disappointed. You have a visual of the game and then you start looking at the game ... I really believe this, it's never as bad as you think it is and that was the feeling after watching it.

"The area and time of the game we thought we were poor in, we were a lot better than we thought. The area where we thought we were doing well, like in the first period ... we weren't good in the first six minutes. We weren't good at all. So you kind of strike a balance and then you just start forward and getting ready for it."

Looking at the big picture, if someone told the Blues they'd be playing a Game 7 against the defending Stanley Cup champions with a chance to eliminate them on home ice, they'd take it in a heartbeat.

"We worked hard in the beginning of the series to make sure that we put ourselves in a good spot to win the series," Brouwer said. "We haven't been able to do it in those two games, but with our play at the beginning of the series, it gave us a good opportunity to have three cracks at it. We let two get away from us, but we've gone one tomorrow."

Does it matter in which manner the Blues got to this point. Hitchcock said it does.

"Yeah, it does matter how we got here," Hitchcock said. "How we got here was ... I think Toews (said) it (best), we gave them our best shots early and they gave us their best shot yesterday. Both shots are very similar. Both shots will be the determining factor in my opinion on who wins tomorrow. And what each team did to each other to get to where we got is the ebb and flow of two wonderful hockey clubs. They give it to us yesterday in the way they dialed the part of their game that they needed to dial up and we did it earlier in the series and they had a difficult time with that. It's going to be a real tug of war to see who gets to that game, but whoever gets to it is going to win that game."

* Changes in the lineup? -- Hitchcock was asked about lineup changes for the game Monday.

Of course he wouldn't disclose, but one he did make one point clear: Brian Elliott will start in goal.

"He's in goal," Hitchcock said. "Lineup changes? Possibly. On defense? Possibly. Anywhere. Whatever we think can work we're going to do tomorrow."

* Fine-tuning the defensive structure -- In Games 1-3, Chicago scored a total of five goals. In Games 4-6, they've scored 13 goals, and a common theme seemed to pop up.

When the Blues clog up the neutral zone and not allow Blackhawks skaters to accelerate and take advantage of their transition game, scoring opportunities weren't nearly as visible.

But when there are gap issues, especially in the neutral zone and the Blues' inability to contain Chicago's secondary layers of scoring, it's what turned things around.

"No, not necessarily. You have to respect their players," Brouwer said. "(Artemi) Panarin, Kane, Toews, when they wind it up in the neutral zone, you can’t get caught flat-footed. We’ll be backing off a little bit to try and match their speed and make sure that we're not giving up too much. They’re a skilled hockey team. They’ve done it for a number of years. That’s why they’ve got  a lot of championships in the past few years. We've been playing our game plan the way we want and as a result, we've been in every game giving ourselves an opportunity to win. We just haven't won the last two."

* Avoiding the history books -- The Blues will look at trying to avoid becoming the 29th team in NHL history at blowing a 3-1 series lead.

The last team was Brouwer's former Washington Capitals last season, but the Blues have already done it once, in 2003 when they lost a series to the Vancouver Canucks in seven games after leading 3-1; they've overcome a 3-1 series deficit twice (1991 vs the Detroit Red Wings and 1999 vs. the Phoenix Coyotes).

Chicago has never lost a 3-1 series lead and overcame one in their history, in 2013 against the Detroit Red Wings en route to the Stanley Cup.

"I think it’s as much pressure as you want to put on yourself," Brouwer said of the game. "We’re excited to play. I know a lot of guys in here haven’t played a Game 7 yet in their career. They’re excited for it. We’re going to have some fun with it. We’ve worked hard to put ourselves in a good spot this year to hopefully knock off the defending champions in a Game 7. Guys are excited for the opportunity tomorrow."

And remember, nothing will come as a surprise.

"There's not," Stastny said. "You've got to have fun with it, enjoy it and compete out there. It's a fun time to be in it. I think you'd rather be playing a Game 7 than not playing at all. I think we've got to embrace the opportunity, enjoy it and have fun with it."

* Shadowing Toews and Kane -- Stastny's line with Brouwer and Alexander Steen were given the dubious task of defending against Toews and whoever played on it. It was Marian Hossa and Richard Panik before Andrew Shaw took shifts there. And since Game 5, Quenneville has paired Toews and Kane together.

What it's done is limit that line's offensive production. Each has at least a point but combined, it's just one goal and three assists.

"Yeah it's been tough," Stastny said. "It's a challenge when you're starting in the 'D' zone. You've got to play a different game against those guys. You've got to be aware, try to make them play as much defense as possible. At the same time they're good players, they're going to get their chances too. So you've got to play defense yourself. It's been fun, it's been a good challenge and it's not going to stop till obviously the game's over tomorrow night."

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