Thursday, October 21, 2021

Tarasenko shines in Blues' 3-1 win at Vegas

Star winger has had tough go of it with multiple shoulder surgeries, 
played his most complete game since Cup-winning team in 2019

It's been going on for quite some time, weeks as a matter of fact. 

Vladimir Tarasenko has been smiling, laughing, joking, and most importantly, he's having fun again.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Vladimir Tarasenko (91) scores the go-ahead goal in the third period past
Vegas goalie Robin Lehner. The Blues won 3-1 at T-Mobile Arena. 

And he's having fun doing what he loves.

It's been a tumultuous two years for Tarasenko, and we all know why, and it climaxed during the summer with his request to get traded out of St. Louis, destined to a new city, a new challenge, a new NHL home.

The Blues stood pat, Tarasenko came to training camp in shape and determined to work.
That work came to a high on Wednesday when he scored the tie-breaking goal in the third period of a 3-1 win against the Vegas Golden Knights at T-Mobile Arena to send the Blues to their first 3-0-0 start to a season since 2017-18.

Can't say it was a surprise that No. 91 got on the scoresheet on this night. In fact, it was a case of when, not if, Tarasenko was going to score.

He was all over it with 11 shot attempts, including a game-high even shots on goal in 17:31 ice time. 

From his first shift of the game, Tarasenko was flying, he was engaged, and most importantly, what Blues fans have grown to love from the time he donned the Bluenote in 2012-13 when he burst onto the scene and scored two dazzling goals in his Blues debut against the Detroit Red Wings, Tarasenko was shooting.

"Just happy for him," Blues goalie Jordan Binnington, who made 42 saves in the game, said of Tarasenko. "He's been working so hard and has been through a lot. It's really nice to see him get rewarded. Can't say enough about that guy and his work ethic. We're all happy for him. Hopefully there's more to come.

"In the third period, tie game, it was nice to see the goal go in and even nicer to see Vladi get rewarded."

Tarasenko, who made one of his patented power moves from right cutting to the net but missed going in on Golden Knights goalie Robin Lehner in the first period, was robbed by a Lehner glove save in the second, a wrister from the high slot. He looked up in angst as if to wonder if it was going to be one of those nights. But it was a glimpse of what was to come.

"I think the puck seemed like a magnet on his stick out there," said Blues winger Brandon Saad, who scored his first goal with the Blues in the second period that tied the game 1-1. "He had a lot of chances. He's a great player, a great goal scorer. It was only a matter of time before that went in for him."

Tarasenko would score off, amazingly in a 1-1 game in the third period, a 3-on-0 chance. The play began in the Vegas zone when Brayden Schenn finished off a check against former teammate and Vegas defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, who grabbed Schenn's stick and tossed it aside (more on that in a bit). As the play was moving into the neutral zone, Pietrangelo spun and threw a blind pass into the middle of the ice that was picked off by Torey Krug, who quickly moved the puck up ice to Schenn, who fed Jordan Kyrou as they were skating in 3-on-0, and Kyrou dished to Tarasenko and he finally beat Lehner at 9:49 to make it 2-1 before Ivan Barbashev finished it off with an empty-netter at 18:48.

It was Tarasenko's 36th game-winning goal.

"It was 3 on 0, when you play with a good partner, you pass the puck on 3-on-0," Tarasenko said. "I said it before, they make a great play, so I just need to put the puck in the net. It was pretty easy goal and great play by Schenner and Kyrou.

"... It's nice to play the game after I missed a lot of time, so I enjoy my time out there with the guys. Goals are nice, wins are nice. Guys make great plays, but like I said, there's a lot of ways to improve my game, improve our team game so we will focus on this and move on."

As the Blues celebrated the goal, Tarasenko immediately turned his attention to Pietrangelo, and a small altercation was quickly defused. It seemed Pietrangelo was upset with Schenn when Schenn finished his check and tossed his stick. Schenn and Pietrangelo came together and Tarasenko was aiding his teammate against his former teammate. 

"I don't know. I'm not going to comment on this," Tarasenko said. "I have no idea what happened. It's a game. Guys get emotional and this is a part of hockey. That's why a lot of people love to play hockey. No comments on this one.

"If he wants to talk about this, he can talk, but just a game, you know, part of the game."

Blues coach Craig Berube had Tarasenko on Robert Thomas' line for a thirs straight game, the past two with Barbashev and one with James Neal. But Berube moved Tarasenko up, as he did in Arizona Monday, to play with Schenn and Kyrou. It was as much out of need as it was rewarding Tarasenko with deserved ice time.

"Well, he had an excellent game," Berube said. "I think he had seven shots on net. Scored a big goal. For me, it was his attack, his skating, taking people wide, jumping into holes, strong on the puck. All the things that he's capable of doing, he did tonight.

"... I just wanted to keep getting Vladi out there. He was playing really well. Different combinations. So, I rotated the lines a little bit."

But it was all set up with Tarasenko's speed, something he displayed on the breakaway attempt he missed when he left in the dust speedy Vegas defenseman Shea Theodore before making his power move.

"I think so," Berube said. "In this league, you've got to skate for sure. You've got to create separation and create space for yourself, and especially when you play against Vegas and teams like that. There's not a lot of room out there. They're a great-skating team, and they're going to get on top of you. They're not going to give you a lot of time and space. So you've got to create the space for yourself, and I thought Vladi did an excellent job of that."

"I think I've seen it too many times," Saad said of Tarasenko's speed. "It's nice to be on the same side now. He's a great hockey player. He's got speed, size, power. He's feeling good, he's looking good and we're happy to have him on our side playing well."

If this is the Tarasenko the Blues are going to get and continue to get, forget about trading him. This is a must-need for your hockey team now, tomorrow, next week, next month, next year. Who knows what the future holds since Tarasenko has two years remaining on his current eight-year, $60 million contract, but for the time being and really since camp's started, the 29-year-old is playing his cards right and being the team player everyone hoped he would be and not a distraction.

Who knows if Tarasenko can consistently get to the 30-plus goals he was accustomed to getting to when he did it for five straight seasons starting in 2014-15, but anything close makes the Blues dangerous.   

"I think everybody play well," Tarasenko said. "We play well as a line. We play for a couple games now. We try to learn where each other going. We have a lot of scoring chances. We have to find ways to score more goals, but obviously it's a great game. It's always hard to play in this building, but also it's very exciting games, a good atmosphere and a very hard team to play against. I think mentally good for a win and it's a great road trip for us. We're ready to go home.

(St. Louis Blues photo)
Vladimir Tarasenko (91) absorbs a hit during the Blues' 3-1 win at Vegas
on Wednesday. Tarasenko led all skaters with seven shots on goal.
"... I'm a forward so I think all the forwards have the mindset to attack, but like I said, need to find ways to put more pucks in."

Regardless, Wednesday may have been Tarasenko's most complete since the Stanley Cup-winning 2018-19 season. Remember when teams passed on him via the trade route throughout the summer, and Seattle could have had him for nothing in the expansion draft? 

Tarasenko has the chance to prove all those doubters wrong, and Wednesday was a subtle reminder just how good he was, and how good he can perhaps be again. 


  1. I for one, am very happy he's on our team and hope he remains. No matte what, goal scorers are difficult to find and we love the guy in St. Louis. Hang with us Vladi!

    1. It'll be interesting to see if this A) keeps him in St. Louis for the longer haul, or B) drives up his trade value. Time will tell, but if he plays like he did last night, Blues have to consider keeping him.