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Is Tarasenko Playing Enough Minutes?

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Washington Capitals v St Louis Blues Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Fellow Game Timer Dan Buffa posed an interesting question on his radio show the other day, “Is Vladimir Tarasenko Playing Enough Minutes?”

You can follow that link to listen to their conclusion. I thought this would be an interesting question to investigate as a follow up to my piece last week about the St. Louis Blues’ amount of penalties affecting their 5v5 TOI (and thus their scoring).

The simple answer to this question is no. He isn’t playing enough minutes. But we all know I don’t like simple answers. We know a couple of valuable data points already to help us answer this question. First, we know that the Blues have seen a drastic reduction in their 5v5 ice time so far this season. Second, we know Tarasenko’s player usage from previous seasons based on Rob Vollman’s Player Usage Charts. Tarasenko sees a lot of OZ starts. Hitchcock likes to start him in the OZ far more than he does in the DZ. This has changed slightly this season with his OZ faceoff percentage (of all faceoffs in all zones) falling 5 percentage points from 44% from last season to 39% this season. However, his OZ faceoffs still represent the largest percentage of faceoffs he is out on the ice for so far this season.

Understanding these two data points can help us start piecing together Tarasenko’s ice time. First, he is seeing less ice time at even strength this season than in previous seasons. He is also seeing less even strength ice time per game as a result. He also has seen a reduction in the number of shifts compared to the same number of games from the start of last season. However, he is still seeing roughly the same TOI (all strengths) per shift as he did last season. There is a slight decrease, but since I was unable to capture just even strength shifts, I had to include all ice time into this calculation. Tarasenko doesn’t see any penalty kill time, but is used frequently on the power play. One again, the penalty differential against the Blues can account for this very small drop in TOI per shift.

So Tarasenko has a drop in ice time, a drop in the number of shifts, but is still seeing roughly the same time per shift as the previous season. If we know that Tarasenko is sent out for mostly OZ faceoffs, then we should look at the team’s overall number of OZ faceoffs so far this season compared to the first 19 games of last season. Sure enough, we see that the Blues have had fewer offensive zone faceoffs this season compared to the same number of games in the previous season.

So to go back and answer our question, “Is Tarasenko seeing enough ice time?” the answer to that question is no. But the explanation lies in the fact that the team has taken far too many penalties so far this season (though this has started to change the past few games) and they have seen a drop in the number of OZ faceoffs. Based on Tarasenko’s usage, a drop in OZ faceoffs will automatically result in a drop in ice time for Tarasenko. An argument could be made that Hitchcock/Yeo need change up Tarasenko’s usage. But I would rather keep his usage the same and try to resolve the underlying issue of too many penalties, and trying to force more OZ faceoffs. I would rather the Blues have the ability to match lines the way they want to match lines, than to adjust with a player’s usage that has been successful to date.