Some players are game changers; athletic types who can adjust the outcome with their mere presence.
Vladimir Tarasenko is at full health right now, skating around and firing deadly wrist shots at will. The shoulder is sound, the hunger is mighty, and Tarasenko is simply ready to play. When asked about accommodations and where the games are happening, the winger told a reporter that all he needed was “a bed and food” to be ready to play.
I love that about Tarasenko. Long before the league recognized him as one of the best scorers in the NHL, I saw him as a level-headed athlete who had a task. He was always on-point during interviews, never hesitating that the goal was to win a Stanley Cup. To him, his job wasn’t done until St. Louis got to celebrate that for one season, their team was the best in the land.
Most athletes just say that to give a reporter a good quote and reason to leave them alone for the night. It’s a juicy quote that never loses its staying power, so why not brandish it more often? Tarasenko means it. It’s authentic coming off his tongue, because now there’s history. Tarasenko helped the Blues win the Stanley Cup last summer, and he can do it again this year.
There are few certainties in this life, but Tarasenko collecting goals from the dot is easily one of them. If he gets time to shoot, it’s a goal. And this guy doesn’t need a lot of time to get set up and fire a knee-buckling wrist shot at the goaltender. That’s why he’s one of the best. A lethal shot from the dot. That’s Tarasenko.
The Blues haven’t experienced that since October. In light of his absence, other guys have stepped up in the scoring (Hello, Mr. Perron) and the team has sharpened their DNA as a defensive specialist type group. At their best, the Blues choke an opponent out over 60 minutes while hitting them with just enough high-caliber offensive talent to allow Jordan Binnington to do his job.
Tarasenko coming back immediately makes the Blues the team to beat. They stood on top of the West without #91, and now here he is, looking deadlier than ever playing 19 minutes a game and having a part in 2-4 goals a night. There’s no other details required, but let me provide a couple.
Tarasenko makes EVERY single player out there next to him better. The other team has to worry about what he can do at the top of the circle, so the attention span for the other winger and possibly the defenseman has lessened. He’s a difference maker, someone who requires your attention right after he hops over the bench.
Second, he’s absolute money in the playoffs. Tarasenko scored 11 goals during the team’s Cup run in 2019. Overall in 70 career games, he has 33 goals and 49 points, with 11 of those goals coming on the power play. Adding him to a group that was on top to begin with makes this team a certain brand of badass.
The dynasty kind.
If the Blues find a way to keep Alex Pietrangelo and this core together, another Cup or two isn’t out of the question. The youth is coming along just fine, with Klim Kostin and Jordan Kyrou needing minutes soon. A young kid like Scotty Perunovich signing says a great deal about this team’s youth core. Last summer wasn’t a fluke, especially if Doug Armstrong can work some payroll magic.
Having a healthy Tarasenko makes any team a whole lot better. On the Blues, it turns a very good team into Stanley Cup Final worthy in a second.