Before the NHL went on a (hopefully) temporary hiatus Thursday afternoon, there were reports that Vladimir Tarasenko was possibly returning soon. Troy Brouwer was moved to and cleared waivers, which meant Tank #91 was close. How close? Only a few know, but it’s about time the team gets back some much-needed scoring firepower.
Let’s face the facts. While the St. Louis Blues have enjoyed a raucous follow-up performance to winning the Stanley Cup last year, there’s been one magnetic presence missing from the afterparty: Tarasenko.
The winger has been down since late October with a shoulder injury, which resulted in another major surgery on the same limb. The prognosis was five months of rest and then an examination. The date for the five month checkup would exist approximately March 29, which would only provide Tarasenko with a handful of games to get prepped and ready.
Next week’s road trip was the supposed date for Tarasenko’s return. The Blues were to play four games along the East coast, setting up the final batch of games that would mostly be played at home. There was no clear cut answer to this, but the Blues made the roster move and were set to put him into the lineup. Due to the required time needed for a full recovery, I think Tarasenko gets into the latter end of that road trip.
Now, no one should be happy about postponed late season hockey. The playoffs are also in question, and they may include an arena without fans. Only time will tell, but here’s the silver lining. Tarasenko gets more than enough time now to erase all doubt and be ready. Craig Berube can try and sell me on his conditioning test passing and almost there jargon, but he may have still missed the next handful of games.
Now, the league is suspended for at least two weeks. That means the earliest time that a game could be played is March 26, which falls closer in line to Tarasenko’s recovery. I’m not saying the Blues would send a less-than-ready winger out into the playoff hunt NHL forest, but this erases all fears and doubts. Tarasenko gets just about a full five month recovery and more importantly, gets to play in 11 games instead of 4-6 games.
If the league doesn’t cancel the rest of the season, Tarasenko should get enough time to get re-acclimated with the fast-paced, physically-relentless style of NHL play, something his body hasn’t tasted in quite a while. He needs to get out there, take a couple hits, and just turn it loose before the playoffs arrive. He needs to scrape off the rust before the big games come into focus. The “pause” in play allows him to find that health and be secure, mentally as well as physically, in knowing he got the right amount of rest. Peace of mind is essential to an elite athlete.
The Blues need him. While they have a stellar power play (ranked 3rd in the NHL currently), they need help in overall scoring (15th in goals for per game) and shots (ranked 21st in the league). The Blues are averaging a meager 3.14 (how ironic) goals per game and 30 shots. Tarasenko typically unloads close to 300 shots per season. He fired 306 on net in the 2017-18 season. Before he went down, Tarasenko had scored in three of his last four games. The Russian snipe king was heating up right as the temperatures started to cool across the St. Louis metro area.
I’ll be honest. Tarasenko is far too valuable for one playoff rush. He’s only 28 years old and puts in 30+ goals per season. A threat unlike anything the Blues currently offer on the ice, with no offense to big time contributors like Brayden Schenn and David Perron. Tarasenko climbs over the bench and the other team’s head coach quietly mutters to himself, “fuck, he’s back.” It’s like an MLB manager putting up four fingers to the pitcher, insisting he walk a potential home run threat. Tarasenko is a home run threat for the Blues. Every time he touches the puck, whether on his dot or in transition, he’s a deadly threat.
I’m glad that threat is going to have more than enough time to be ready for a Lord Stanley defense. The coronavirus has taken away plenty of good things this past week. Along with the NHL, fans lost the NBA, MLB, NCAA March Madness, and even XFL action in a matter of 24 hours. Blues fans are now faced with the possibility of no hockey for 2-4 weeks at least since this virus is only starting to sweep across North America, and they may not even get into the building when things do resume.
But when the action does pick back up, there’ll be a guy named Vladimir, wearing #91, taking the ice with a need to impose his will on a hockey game.
Keep that mind as you revisit Game 7 in Boston and dream about the next Blues game night.