From everywhere on the ice, he’s lethal. His latest masterpiece came with the kind of matter-of-fact precision regular humans might use when tying a shoe or buckling a seat belt. For Vladimir Tarasenko, scoring wicked wristers from the top of the circle is just another part of the daily routine. Ho-hum.
His 15th goal of the season got the scoring going for the Blues Thursday in a 5-2 win over the Devils at Scottrade Center. After the debacle in Nashville where the Blues squandered a 3-0 lead by surrendering six unanswered to the Predators, the Note’s sour start against New Jersey could have led the team down a dangerous path.
Instead, the Blues rallied back from down 2-0, Tarasenko serving as the flint to spark the flame. It’s as though merely deciding to score a goal is enough for Tarasenko to ensure that it happens. As he lined up his shot from a sharp angle late in the first period, one could picture him thinking to himself: ‘We're down by two goals? Nah, I don’t like it.’
With a dandy over Cory Schneider’s glove, he changed the circumstances.
"Jaden (Schwartz) made a nice screen and he was a right-handed tender, so I tried to shoot high glove,” Tarasenko explained.
Nothing to it.
Though that was his lone goal of the night, it didn’t mean Tarasenko was done contributing. The days of Tarasenko cherry-picking for his next scoring chance are over; Blues coach Ken Hitchcock was impressed Thursday by his willingness to commit on both sides of the ice.
“The part that was good for me was in the third period, he competed defensively,” Hitchcock said. “That's a big step. He was willing to work for the next goal if it came, and I think that's just maturity in a player. I think you're starting to see the maturity in a player, which is a really good sign for this franchise."
When the franchise player competes as ferociously in all facets of the game as Tarasenko did Thursday, good things are bound to happen. Even without his defensive efforts, though, Tarasenko is carrying the Blues with his offense.
With three points Thursday, Tarasenko extended his latest point streak to five games, across which he’s notched 10 points. His 37 points for the season trail only Connor McDavid’s 39 for the NHL-lead.
It’s not just his insane shot-creation racking up points, either; Tarasenko is lately flashing an equally prolific passing game that has allowed his teammates to cash in, too. Assisting Alex Pietrangelo on a goal Thursday, Tarasenko’s setup was almost too perfect.
“Great pass by Vladdy,” Pietrangelo said. “It just kind of hit my stick. Right spot at the right time – I almost missed the net.”
Pietrangelo was shocked at how wide open he was. Tarasenko’s pass got on him in a hurry.
“I was shocked that he passed it that hard, too,” the captain added with a grin. “I had to make sure I shot it as hard as I could to make sure it went in.”
Because Tarasenko’s shot is so deadly, it has begun to open up the passing game more freely, a development to which No. 91 has responded appropriately.
“When you shoot the way he does, goalies and d-men really have to respect it,” Pietrangelo said of Tarasenko. “When you can shoot the way he can, it’s going to open up a lot of opportunities and seams because guys got onto that shot. Not many guys can score like he did tonight, so that’s just a prime example of what he can do. He’s one of the best in the world for a reason and tonight’s a prime example.”
One of the best in the world? Tarasenko has long been considered a marvel as a scorer. But has his game risen to a level worthy of mention alongside the best all-around talent in the NHL?
His coach believes so.
“He has the ability to be (the best player in the league) because he's got five tools,” Hitchcock said of Tarasenko. “I've said this since training camp, he's one of the best passers in the game, doesn't get enough credit for it. But he's in a position where if he continues to progress like he is right now, he's got a chance from an all-around play standpoint, he's got a real chance to be the top guy.”
Though the Blues haven’t found their stride consistently between home and road splits, Tarasenko has remained red-hot. Keeping him there should not only have Tarasenko in conversations for some hardware in the coming months, but it should also give the Blues a chance to win every night – no matter where the game is played.
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