Sports really don’t make sense.
Remember around Christmas when all St. Louis Blues wanted was a winning streak and for Vladimi Tarasenko to wake up and take charge?
Yeah, both of those wishes were answered, albeit 60-75 days later. The Blues won their ninth game in a row today over the Colorado Avalanche, aka The Stan Kroenke-ites, and are sitting comfortably in third place in the Central after tasting last place in the conference around New Year’s Day.
Tarasenko has been a big part of that comeback, scoring 10 goals in his last 11 games, and tallying 18 points during that period of play. He has 14 goals since Jan. 1, and looks for a lock for 30 goals before the end of the month. Wouldn’t it sick if a guy who couldn’t buy a goal near the end of last year and sat on 11 goals for such a long time ended up with 40 for the season?
Once again, the hockey gods are a tricky bunch of alcoholic charm-swindlers. One day, you’ll be screaming for a prospect named Jack who may not even solve your problems, and the next you could be asking for playoff action.
I’ll be honest. There was a time not too long ago (four weeks ago, a Tuesday) where I half-jokingly said the Blues should sell off a lot of pieces and see where the reload receipt hit them. I swallowed pride, coughed up playoff bliss that day, and tried to rethink what the future could hold. Whiskey didn’t play a part in that tweet, but I was certain part of it made sense.
These days, I am excited to see what the team could do. Will it cost them to go hard for a playoff spot and come up short, losing out on a high draft pick slot? Maybe. You know what could also happen ... the Blues could screw up the top pick anyway. I’ll vote for the playoffs. This is a different team with Craig Berube behind the bench, Jordan Binnington in front of the net, and Tarasenko out of the cage.
After all, this was a big season for #91, a guy who sees a sizable salary jump next year (even with no change in the cap hit), and more importantly, a no-trade clause being triggered this summer. If there was ever a time for the 27-year-old Russian to cut the shit and start being himself, the past two months sure were it.
There was a time when Tarasenko hung his head, shouted into the air, and broke sticks. He was shooting pucks to no avail, the rubber hitting pad or boarding instead of net. Frustration filled his game and in turn, swelled in the clubhouse and the team. You can whine all day about captain patches and how certain players rule over a locker room, but when your best scorer is in the dumps, the effect can be substantial.
The Blues needed Tarasenko to click into gear, and become that guy again. A guy who can take the puck and draw the attention of not one, two, three, but four hockey players on the ice. A guy who can take the puck at the right circle, cross over the ice, and fire a wrist shot on goal or slide the puck to a free winger breaking down behind him. When Tarasenko is going right, so many things fall into place for the team.
Tarasenko scored the first goal on Saturday afternoon, breaking a scoreless game up after 40+ minutes of action. The team then responded with a goal from Zach Sanford to make it 2-0. Jake Allen made a sprawling save in net to keep the shutout intact, and the Blues polished off the contest with a third goal.
It is true that the Blues are winning as a team, but when a guy like Tarasenko is doing his job and then some, a lot that was going wrong can suddenly turn right.
Craig Berube’s job gets easier. Binnington and Allen don’t feel the pressure. The second and third lines can ease up and do their thing. The defense isn’t playing on their toes. There’s confidence in the air at all times, because Tarasenko could strike at any moment.
Last weekend, Tarasenko scored four goals in two games against the division rival Predators, including a hat trick in Nashville on Sunday. He was dominant, ever-present, and took over that game. The rest of the team followed, and played up their ability. It was something to behold.
Binnington’s rise has helped set the foundation for a comeback. The defense’s reliability has triggered a different flow on ice. Passing is more crisp. Shots are finding the net. Berube’s no bullshit message is sinking in. All of that counts huge. Tarasenko’s resurgence has meant the most.
Look at the emotion on his face. Tarasenko doesn’t just raise his arms and smile after a goal. He kicks his knee up, circles around, jumps into the boards, and looks like a guy who just won the lottery. He knows every goal counts right now, like every nail going into the wall of a new building counts. The head is no longer hanging, and the shoulders are opposed to slumping.
Certain fans wanted to trade a perennial 30-goal scorer earlier this season. Can you believe that? Let’s make it clear. Trading Tarasenko was NEVER a good idea. Don’t ever think it again.
Tarasenko is alive, and so are the St. Louis Blues.
Enjoy it while it lasts, leaving the future alone for a little while.