As mentioned in a previous article, the addition and subsequent loss of Paul Stastny shouldn’t be a make-or-break situation for the 2014-2015 St. Louis Blues. Although the onus is placed on the existing Backes-Oshie-Steen-Pietrangelo leadership core as it should be, the players that tip the balance for the team into taking the next step are newer additions. Somewhat lost in the Stastny hoopla is the addition of Jori Lehtera and his amazing chemistry with budding star Vladimir Tarasenko.
Lehtera and Tarasenko are special players
Blues fans should place a little tick mark next to the October 28, 2014 game versus the Dallas Stars. Although Vladimir Tarasenko more than proved his worth in the 2014 playoffs against Chicago by being the dominant offensive presence for the Blues, the game against the Stars showed how the powerful forward can command a game. Tara’s hat trick against the Stars spoiled an otherwise solid effort by Kari Lehtonen, and was punctuated by a timely goal from Lehtera.
Watching the highlights reveals an important chemistry between Lehtera and Tarasenko, since one was involved in some way with the other’s goal production all night vs the Stars. This symbiosis is reminiscent of the heady Hull and Oates era, where the two players instinctively knew where the other was at all times. Ironically, the absence of Paul Stastny due to injury is probably allowing this dynamic duo to see more opportunities to change the outcome of close games, where timely goal production is absolutely critical. The game against the Stars showcased this perhaps more than any other game in the young season.
“He knows where I am and I know where he is, so it makes it easier.”
The above quote from Lehtera on linemate Tarasenko illustrates the hockey relationship the two possess. Although adding a player in his prime like Paul Stastny is a minor coup for a team like the Blues — who have a history of signing former stars in the twilight of their careers — the real story moving forward for the Blues has to be the embedded chemistry between these two dynamic forwards. Both Lehtera and Tarasenko have the ability to put the puck in the net on their own. Placed together, the two invoke utter confusion on opposing defenses and goaltenders. It almost requires a mistake on their part or a lucky defensive break to prevent a perfect pass. Even if passing lanes are blocked for the easy tap-ins which the duo are becoming known for, both possess incredible shots. In other words, there is no good way to defend them. Adding another solid linemate like Alexander Steen or Jaden Schwartz — the two other players most commonly paired with Jock and Tara — only adds another threat which, by season’s end, might be considered among the top two or three lines in hockey.
It’s time for the rest of the team to consistently contribute
Outside of the 6-1 shellacking of the Arizona Coyotes earlier in the season that featured a Jaden Schwartz hat trick and contributions by nearly everyone, the balanced attack the Blues are known for has been a little lacking. Outside of Lehtera and Tarasenko, it’s been rather random at times. The win against Chicago saw Ryan Reaves, part-time Blue Dimitri Jaskin and Schwartz. The Blues if they are to repeat the same success they’ve seen over the past few years need T.J. Oshie, David Backes and Alexander Steen to produce at the level they’re capable of. The injury to Paul Stastny will not provide a crutch upon his return, as fans and management will expect production quickly from their $7M man. There’s no reason to assume these things won’t happen, but for the Blues to succeed in a tough Western Conference they need to roll four productive lines. The depth is there, but everyone needs to contribute regularly for that plan to happen. One line teams are a thing of the past, and a month into the regular season fans’ enthusiasm for the LehTara Show is simultaneously tempered by the understanding that their regular go-to scorers need to up the ante. When this happens, the Blues will once again return to their rightful place atop the NHL.