Blues and Kings set for two in the STAPLES Center.
Could Tarasenko make his return?
The box score from October 24, 2019, looked impressive enough. The ST. Louis Blues scored three power-play goals en route to a convincing 5-2 win over the Los Angeles Kings at Enterprise. A productive game by all accounts. But one small fact did not make the box score. An injury. At the time, it was what seemed like an inconsequential moment. The player splits the defenders, gets an elbow in the rib cage. Ouch. The game goes on.
So, when Vladimir Tarasenko split two LA defenders as he entered the zone that fateful night, Sean Walker reached around to slow him and made contact. The winger winced, left the ice without much fanfare, but seemed no worse for the wear.
“Hopefully, it’s not too serious,” Braden Schenn told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch after the game.
Welp, it was.
That was the last we saw of the real Vladimir Tarasenko. The injury was more than a bothersome ouchie. It ended his season, cutting a bucketful of goals and insane playmaking ability out of the lineup. It has caused the team executive many sleepless nights, and fans at one point were ready to stitch Tarasenko his very own Kraken jersey. He has been traded, cut, released, and left for dead on the fan boards many times over.
True, he did come back for four games during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but he was clearly not the same player as he was before he bowed out with the injury.
Now, all that is about to change. If his body of work is any indication of what is to come, get ready Blues fans. The Tank is ready to roll. Ironically, it comes against the same coat of arms that changed his career trajectory.
Just when we will see him is a matter of question. Chief has said it would be on this road trip. We are a little way into the trip and have only seen Tank skating with the boys in morning skates. But rest assured, this Red warrior is getting his war paint on, his mind right, as we speak. He knows the hopes and dreams of this year’s team could rest largely on his shoulders, and it is a task he is built for. He is a game-changer, and it is his job to leave no doubt about that in fans’ minds. In some corners, the stench of disrespect still lingers in the air.
Blues coach Craig Berube said he expects the same Tarasenko to come back and become an impact player down the stretch for the team. Tank has put in the work, Chief said.
“I think he’s worked really hard off the ice, kept himself in good shape,” Berube told Lou Korac of NHL.com in early February 2021.
Meant to post this earlier, but here’s Tarasenko doing “hot laps” a half hour after Monday’s morning skate at Honda Center. pic.twitter.com/dbLxg1fuIw
— Jim Thomas (@jthom1) March 2, 2021
At age 29, Tarasenko has plenty of hockey left in him. So far in his career, he is played in 507 games and has scored 214 goals with 214 assists for 428 points. He has been a clutch player, scoring 35 game-winners in his career and has scored 10 overtime goals. The Blues drafted the Yaroslavl, Russia native in the first round of the 2010 NHL Draft (16th overall).
In the Blues 2019 Cup run, Tank was a key piece of the machine, scoring 11 goals in 26 games, a torrid pace that extended into the 2019-2020 season before it was cut short by the upper-body injury. Durability has never been much of a question attached to Tarasenko’s name; in 2016-2017 he played in all 82 games, played 80 games in 2017-2018, and 76 games in 2018-19. In his injury-shortened season, he played in just 10 games.
If there is ever a silver lining to this injury, it was that others had to step up. Robert Thomas would score his first goal of the season against the Kings that same night. Zach Sanford elevated his play from healthy scratch to being a real factor for the team. It was at that moment that Tank went down that the stars started to align for the Blues.
An interesting side note to this matchup with the Kings – on that same date, Kyle Clifford (now a Blue) and goalie Jordan Binnington skirmished briefly after Clifford bumped into Binnington. That same game, Binnington had a chance at an open net but just missed.
Strange days indeed.
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