Tarasenko-led offense comes out firing

Tarasenko-led offense comes out firing

Credit: UPI

St. Louis Blues Vladimir Tarasenko of Russia steps (L) gets a congratulatory touch to the helmet by teammate Alex Pietrangelo after scoring his first NHL goal in the first period against the Detroit Red Wings at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis on January 19, 2013. UPI/Bill Greenblatt


by Andrew Allsman / Hockey StL


Posted on January 20, 2013 at 5:24 PM

Updated Thursday, Dec 5 at 1:34 AM

(Hockey StL) -- Just maybe, the Blues have found the true goal scorer they’ve been missing since the departure of Brett Hull.

Highly touted rookie and former first-round draft choice Vladimir Tarasenko scored on his first shot in the NHL and added another goal later as the Blues opened the 2013 season with a 6-0 pounding of the Detroit Redwings. Click here to watch first goal | Second goal

Last year, the Blues struggled for the better part of the season finding their offensive touch. They finished the season 21st in goals scored, and were forced to rely heavily on their defense for most of the season.

“We worked,” said Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock. “We hunted the puck, we stayed on the puck, and we were hungry. Yes, we scored some nice goals, but the biggest thing is that we worked right until the end.”

The Blues made it look easy. At the end of the first period, the Red Wings had only two shots on Jaroslav Halak and at the end of the game the final shot count was 36-14 in the Blues’ favor.

“We looked like a really good team tonight, but who knows in two or three games when we have to go play and are tired,” said Hitchcock. “We looked like a strong and determined team (Saturday), but we will have to wait and see what we have got.”

The Blues have become used to winning close games. Last year, the team had 38 games that were decided by one goal, which put a lot of strain on their net minders. This year, with games being played much more frequently, offense will have to play a much larger role. Already, it looks like Tarasenko will be a key part of the team’s offensive play.

Seeing Tarasenko take the ice sporting the Note was something fans had long awaited. Saturday night, when Tarasenko was introduced to the fans, they gave him the loudest cheer of any Blue that took the ice for the pregame ceremony. It was at that moment that Tarasenko realized how important he was to St. Louis Blues fans.

“I was a little nervous before the game,” admitted Tarasenko. “But I’m happy to be here and I’m thankful for my teammates for helping me. They help me so much.”

It took the rookie only six minutes to settle to his NHL career and on his first shot, he found the back of the net and sent the noise level at Scottrade Center through the roof.

Tarasenko would later use his nifty stick work to net his second goal, leaving teammate T.J. Oshie in awe of his skill.

“I’ve never seen a guy do that in his first game. I know I didn’t,” Oshie joked. “We are excited for him, and he should definitely be proud of himself. We hope he keeps going.”

Tarasenko speaks little English, but his personality is great, and is a perfect fit with the team according to Oshie.

“He’s fitting in really well,” said Oshie. “I think all of the guys have gotten along with him really well. He’s not the best at speaking English, but he is getting there. He’s got a little sense of humor to him when you get him talking. He meshes in really well with this team.”

Tarasenko spent the lockout in Russia playing in the Kontinental Hockey League. He was placed on a line with NHL superstar Ilya Kovalchuk. The 21-year-old forward had 31 points in 31 games, but his ability to adjust to the NHL was in question, that is, until Saturday night.

“He is a finisher. He is just a really good player,” said Hitchcock. “The thing that impresses me about him is that he’s a really good kid. He’s really sincere. He had a good night tonight, and he played well. It’s nice to see a young guy finish like that, but more importantly, it’s good to see he wants to learn. He just wants to be part of this team, and wants to please the veteran players.”

“Playing him with (Alex) Steen and (Andy) McDonald is a good fit because they will nurture him. He is playing against players that he doesn’t know, and (McDonald and Steen) are working with him on the bench and warning him. Those are things that he is willing to learn. He is going to be a really good player, but he just wants to learn and that is a really good sign.”

Tarasenko was not the only reason the Blues won, but he was the story of the night. The Blues, as a whole, played with chemistry and determination. Their most effective offensive weapon was their power play which went four for seven on the night. On the power play, the Blues were able to maintain possession, and set up shop in front of the Red Wings’ net. Most of the Blues’ power play chances were a result of beating the Red Wings’ defenders to the puck. Oshie said that the team had been working on the special teams all week, looking to improve from last year, so they were well prepared.

“We worked quite a bit on (special teams) this past week. We want to shoot a lot on the power play, and keep them from shooting a lot on the penalty kill. It worked out in our favor tonight.”

Despite the explosive night, Hitchcock warns against setting expectations too high for the Blues, and says it will take ten games before he can really assess his team.

The Blues take on the Nashville Predators on Monday and the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday. Hitchcock expects those opponents to be tough ones, but if the same Blues’ offense shows up, no team will be able to stop the Note.