The St. Louis Blues have often been a one man team throughout the course of their history. That may not have proved quite as true this year, but the man is still the man for the Note.
The St. Louis Blues had a heck of an end to the 2016-17 season. To go along with that, their star player came up just as big down the stretch.
The boys in blue won 17 of their last 20 games of the regular season. Only one of those wins came in a shootout or overtime, so the Blues were often the better team over the course of a full 60 minute. Perhaps they didn’t always play at peak levels for 60 minutes, but they were the better team for long enough.
Meanwhile, Vladimir Tarasenko was going on what has become a customary late season surge. He had three goals and six points in his last five games. On top of that, he had five goals in his last ten games and 17 since Mike Yeo took over.
Tarasenko almost got his 40th of the season as the Blues were looking to feed him for empty net goals with a 3-2 lead in the final regular season game. Unfortunately, Colorado was having none of it and the opportunity never truly came with the exception of a shot just wide from the blue line.
The Blues also got another late season push from a Vladimir, but this one was not wearing 91. Instead it was the newly donned 71 of Vladimir Sobotka.
Picking up like he had never left, Sobotka was active in all three zones of the ice. He even earned some time centering the top line.
Hopefully that will not have to be the case as he continues into the playoffs, but it was good to see him gel quickly. It did not take long for him to impact the game either.
Sobotka scored his first NHL goal in three years in his first game back. It was a great one timer set up by fellow enigmatic player, Jori Lehtera.
The Blues are going to need both Vladimir’s clicking on all cylinders to be successful in the playoffs. Sobotka does not necessarily need to be a scorer, but he will need to be an oiled cog in the machine with not time to get up to speed.
The question, not to be a downer, is how much you can expect of either Vladimir. Sobotka has been playing in the KHL, but as good as that league is, it is not the NHL.
The ice is wider, the physicality is less and the style is just different. Hockey is hockey to a certain degree, but Sobotka does not have any time to acclimate himself. One goal does not a season make, since the Blues have had a lot of luck with guys scoring in their first game this year.
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For his part, Tarasenko had a similar run to get to 40 goals last season. He had seven goals in his last ten games in 2015-16 and four in the last three.
Unfortunately, as the playoffs progressed, we saw less and less of the Tarasenko the Blues needed. He had nine goals in 20 games, but too many just did not come in important moments.
The Blues need their star to be the star when it matters most. They also need Sobotka to justify the extension they just gave him.
One goal is great, but is he worth $3.5 million coming up? Let it not be said he doesn’t have fans, but most people are not opposed to his return. They are opposed to the extension, which takes away valuable resources toward any potential deals this summer.
Sobotka can’t just be a fourth line guy playing above his weight class, in a matter of speaking. He’s got to be a solid middle-six forward now. Again, nobody is asking him to light up the scoreboard, but his last playoff goal came in 2012. He needs more than that.
Tarasenko can’t just be the decoy to allow others to succeed in the postseason. He has to take charge and grab the game by the neck.
We have seen a little bit of that as the season has ended. He charged past several Colorado players to snipe the game winner in the season finale. Just prior to that, he had a laser shot to win a shootout.
If Tarasenko can keep that shooting mentality, he can put this team on his shoulders. That’s what you need sometimes from your best guy.
None of this is meant to rain on anyone’s parade. The end of the year has been fantastic to see and having both Vlady’s back is great.
However, we’ve reached the point where the regular season was all fun and games and now it is time to get serious. We are about to see if the Vladimir’s of the Blues can come up just as big in the playoffs.