The St. Louis Blues’ most pressing concern today probably isn’t how they’ll play in the absence of Vladimir Tarasenko, who is expected to be out of the lineup until March due to surgery on his left shoulder. The Blues actually have some real organizational strength down the right side and, let’s face it, if any team in the NHL has displayed an uncanny ability to play through adversity, it’s the Blues.
Actually, the Blues should be worried on a much deeper level. When Tarasenko got tangled up with Sean Walker of the Los Angeles Kings on a partial breakaway last week, he injured the same shoulder that was surgically repaired after he injured it late in the 2018 season and the one he dislocated during the Stanley Cup final in 2019.
Tarasenko is just 27 years old and, after this season, he’s still under contract to the Blues for three more years with a cap hit of $7.5 million per year. And he’s had a significant injury to the same shoulder three times in the past 18 months, two of which have required major surgery and a long rehabilitation period. When a team announces that a guy is going to be re-evaluated in five months, you know it’s serious.
And that’s too bad. After winning his first Stanley Cup, Tarasenko was off to an outstanding start with three goals and 10 points in 10 games. In fact, the game before he was injured, Tarasenko was the first star in a 3-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche in which he scored a goal and two assists. That represents a huge hole in their lineup, but not one that will bury this veteran team, even if GM Doug Armstrong does not make a move.
The Blues are really, really good along the right side of the ice, both at forward and defense. In the two games that Tarasenko has missed so far, 20-year-old Robert Thomas has played the right side of the top line with Brayden Schenn at center and Jaden Schwartz on the left. They have David Perron, who scored the overtime winner Sunday afternoon in Detroit and has the skill and savvy to step up in Tarasenko’s absence, playing on the second line. The reliable and hard-working Alex Steen holds down the third-line spot and the big and physical Oskar Sundqvist is the fourth-line right winger. Their top two right-shot defensemen are Alex Pietrangelo and Justin Faulk. That’s some serious depth right there.
It’s true that not having Tarasenko in the lineup robs the Blues of the one true offensive game-breaker they have, but this is a team that has enough two-man tandems on their lines up front and enough offensive thrust on the backend to make up for that loss. No sense in Armstrong dealing away either draft picks or youth to fill a void that can be made up by committee.
In the long-term, however, the Blues have got to be very, very concerned about Tarasenko, not only because he’s seriously injured his left shoulder twice in the past 18 months, but more because of how utterly innocuous both of the plays were that led to those injuries.
Look at the one that happened last week. He basically gets tied up with Walker and there’s almost no contact:
— Jiff Geoff (@HockeyFeedSTL) October 25, 2019
And take a look at this one from late in 2018. He barely hits Gabriel Landeskog along the boards and that puts him on the shelf:
And, obviously, Tarasenko with a shoulder injury is not an effective player, as evidenced by the fact that he dislocated his shoulder in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup final, then managed to contribute only a goal and two assists in the final five games of the series.
It’s pretty clear that Tarasenko has major, major problems with that shoulder, something that could not be surgically corrected the first time around. If I’m a playoff opponent of the Blues, the first thing I’m doing is going after Tarasenko and targeting that shoulder, every single shift. Short of a complete shoulder reconstruction that would probably put him out until next season, that shoulder is going to continue to be an issue for him and the Blues.
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