The 2018-19 St. Louis Blues won the Stanley Cup Championship, the first in the history of the franchise. But, naturally, some players made a bigger contribution than others. In this series, we’ll look at the Blues’ star players, and see who made the grade and who needs to retake the test.
Entering the 2018-19 season, there was no question that Vladimir Tarasenko was the St. Louis Blues’ superstar. Even with the offseason arrival of Ryan O’Reilly from the Buffalo Sabres, it was the Russian sniper who had the fans’ hearts, not to mention the sweater sales and the video game cover.
After the remarkable Stanley Cup Championship season, the hierarchy changed. O’Reilly, whose trophy cabinet is now highlighted by a Selke Trophy and a Conn Smythe Trophy, is one of the new faces of the franchise, along with breakout goaltender Jordan Binnington. Tarasenko, who had something of a down season by his standards, faded to the background in the process. But was his season as bad as it seems? Let’s take a look at the numbers.
Tarasenko’s Up and Down Season
Through the first 14 games of the season, Tarasenko was a point per game player. He found immediate chemistry with the new arrival, O’Reilly, and it helped him become an even more prolific threat. But even then, the Russian received some criticism, because only six of those 14 points were goals, the contribution he’d made his name on.
Then, after game 14, everything started to change. The team was off to a slow start, and the months of November and particularly December were brutal for Tarasenko and the Blues. The team fired head coach Mike Yeo after a loss to the Los Angeles Kings on Nov. 19, during a stretch in which Tarasenko was pointless and minus-three total across four of his last five games.
Even after new head coach Craig Berube arrived, things continued to go poorly for the Russian. December was the worst month of his career by far. In 13 games, he had just two goals, no assists, and was a shocking minus-11. He even took a very uncharacteristic 14 penalty minutes (by comparison, he had just eight in the rest of the season).
At that time, practically every Blues player was rumored to be on the trading block, most notably Tarasenko. Many believed that he had run his course in St. Louis and needed a change of scenery. But that’s when the sniper began to change their minds.
After his dreadful December, he returned to form. In the second half of the season, he had 44 points in 39 games, highlighted by 22 points in 14 games in February. During that same time, the Blues turned their season around, going on a franchise record 11-game winning streak. Tarasenko was every bit as vital as O’Reilly and Binnington in manufacturing the team’s turnaround and return to playoff contention.
Impact Playoff Performer
While he wasn’t quite the same dominant, point-per-game player he had been toward the end of the season, over the course of the playoffs, Tarasenko continued to perform. Though he had a couple of cold stretches, he finished the Stanley Cup run with 11 goals, six assists, and 17 points in 26 games. That number was good for 8th in the playoffs, and fourth on the team behind O’Reilly, Jaden Schwartz, and Alex Pietrangelo.
The highlight of Tarasenko’s playoffs may have been his penalty shot goal in Game 5 of the Western Conference Final against the San Jose Sharks. In on a breakaway against Martin Jones, Brent Burns dove and tripped Tarasenko from behind. He earned a penalty shot, and the rest was history. He put a wicked wrist shot past Jones, giving the Blues a commanding 3-0 lead in the game en route to a 3-2 lead in the series.
When the Blues won the Stanley Cup, it was the fulfillment of a dream that Tarasenko had dreamed since the Blues drafted him in 2010. After the 2016-17 season, he wrote about how important St. Louis was to him. Now, he had helped bring the city its first ever Stanley Cup.
Tarasenko’s season was hot and cold at times. From the start, it looked like it might be a breakout campaign, but his goal scoring lagged behind. Then, he hit the month of December, one of the very worst months of his career. The Blues were in so bad a spot, rumors were swirling that his days in St. Louis might be numbered.
Considering all of that, the end of his season was remarkable. Tarasenko was more than a point-per-game player for the final three months of the season. He helped turn the team around, and led the charge offensively during their 11-game winning streak. Then in the playoffs, he fulfilled his, his teammates, and his fans’ ultimate dream: winning a Stanley Cup.
Tarasenko finished the regular season with 68 points in 76 games. It was more points in fewer games than the prior season, but his 33 goals tied for the lowest total in five seasons. He has always been a player who was difficult on himself. While this season ended with the greatest achievement, he still has the skill to be a 40 or even 50 goal scorer. There’s work to be done next season, but perhaps winning the Cup will lift the weight off his shoulders and enable him to reach new heights.
Final Grade: B-
Stephen Ground is an author with The Hockey Writers and is co-host of the Two Guys No Cup Podcast. He enjoys studying the numbers and providing fresh looks at various stories.