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Where is Tarasenko?

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Is he hurt? Is he longing to be with his newborn? Has he just given up? Does he not care about the team and its fans?

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Stop it.  Please stop it with the crazy talk about Vladimir Tarasenko.  The reason why Tarasenko has been a non-factor in the Western Conference Final is San Jose has targeted him and is smothering him with two of the best shot suppression defensemen in the league.

Shooting the puck scores goals.  Shooting the puck a lot scores a lot of goals.

To be a top goal scorer in the NHL you have to take a lot of shots.  This might seem obvious, but I'm building this argument from the ground up.  The first tab in the dataviz below shows the shots and goals for NHL forwards with over 300 minutes of ice time at 5v5 during the regular season.  Each mark represents a player.  The top nine goal scorers (at 5v5) are dark gold, the next ten is in light gold.  Tarasenko is one of the top ten goal scorers at 5v5 this past regular season which is why there are only 9 top scorers colored in dark gold.  The only player in the top ten who shot the puck more than Tarasenko during the regular season was Alex Ovechkin.  So all those goals Tarasenko scored were the result of a lot of shots (210 to be exact).  The second tab shows the same group of players, but by shot and goal rates.  Regular season Tarasenko has solid shot and goal rates compared to his peers and the rest of the forwards in the league.  Playoff Tarasenko not so much.  I took a look at this data before the Sharks series started and I can tell you that his playoff mark for goal rate was a bit closer to his regular season mark.  But as the playoffs have progressed Tarasenko's shot generation has diminished.

Teams start to take notice

The third tab breaks out shot and goal stats by game and by series. Not only has Tarasenko's total number of shots diminished during the course of the playoffs, but so has his rate of shots and of course his number of goals.  But the most telling statistic of all is the shot attempts (corsi).  During the first two series whenever Tarasenko was on the ice at 5v5 the Blues made more shot attempts than they gave up.  However, during their series with the Sharks, Tarasenko's corsi for percentage is under 50%.  When Tarasenko has been on the ice during this series, the Blues have given up more attempts than they have taken.

Targeting Tarasenko

The Sharks are targeting Tarasenko.  Taking a look at the head to head match-ups on War on Ice for the Western Conference Final you will see two names that stand out when looking at Tarasenko's match-ups with the Sharks:  Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun.  These two defensemen for the Sharks have logged more ice time against Tarasenko (27:04 and 27:30 at 5v5) than any other defensemen for the Sharks have logged against any other Blues' forward.  And just who are Vlasic and Braun (besides a pickle and electric shaver)?  They just happen to be two of the best shot suppression defensemen in the NHL.  Out of all defensemen on playoff teams, who have played at least 1000 minutes in the regular season, Vlasic and Braun are in the top 15 of corsi against per 60 minutes of ice time (in this case a lower number is better).  Out of teams that are in the conference finals, they are 5th and 6th after Stalman, Hedman, Parayko, and Edmunson.

"What happens when an unstoppable force meets an unmovable object?"

In order for Tarasenko to score goals, he has to be able to generate shots.  But the Sharks are going out of their way to assign two of the best shot suppression defensemen in the league to prevent Tarasenko from making those shots.  The result?  No goals for Tarasenko.  So please stop with your idle speculation.  He isn't hurt.  His head isn't in the clouds.  It isn't because he hasn't been in the playoffs enough (I still can't believe Hitch said that about him).  It isn't that he doesn't care or whatever other nonsense St. Louis Blues fans come up with about why players "disappear" during the playoffs (seriously some of you are starting to sound like Fox Mulder with all your "theories").  It is simply because the Sharks are smothering Tarasenko.  Hitchcock needs to find a way to get him away from those defenders.  If he does, then Tarasenko can get back to his usual self.  But it is clear that the Sharks have done their homework and they will do whatever it takes to make sure Tarasenko is neutralized.