St. Louis Blues Power Play Is Better Without Vladimir Tarasenko

ST. LOUIS, MO - MARCH 15: Vladimir Tarasenko
ST. LOUIS, MO - MARCH 15: Vladimir Tarasenko /

The St. Louis Blues power play struggles in 2017-18 have been well documented. A sudden surge coinciding with a certain player being out of the lineup is noteworthy.

The St. Louis Blues opened the year with a decent power play, but it has never been great all season long. The problem for the Blues is that it went from mediocre to painfully bad.

There were stretches where the Blues were scoring two or three goals in over 40 chances. That is just truly awful.

The Blues power play is still quite bad, statistically, even with a sudden surge of goals. Those goals have coincided with their turnaround on the ice and in the standings.

Another interesting coincidence is the Blues power play is clicking much better since Vladimir Tarasenko went out with an upper body injury. In one game they scored on two consecutive power plays and the unit has looked much crisper since that time, regardless of goals scored.

So, it does bring up the question as to whether Tarasenko is part of the problem with power play scoring. Anecdotally, it would seem so.

However, despite the title, the problem is clearly not Tarasenko himself. He is not quite the power play performer you would like to see in a player of his caliber.

The most power play goals he has ever scored in a season was 12 and that was in 2015-16. On top of that, Tarasenko has averaged almost as many game winning goals per season as power play goals and you should have a lot fewer chances to do that.

The problem, at least during this season, is how Tarasenko has been utilized. Ken Hitchcock did not do this nearly as much, though he did a few times, but the Blues foolishly keep putting Tarasenko on the point.

That is a big reason why the power play has looked so much better. For all his skills and positive traits, Tarasenko should not be the quarterback.

His shot is about quickness and explosiveness, not pure power. Having him 60-plus feet from the goal makes no sense.

Additionally, he is a good passer, averaging in the mid-30’s for assists every year. He’s not a quick passer though, so any mistake made gets amplified by the puck coming out of the zone.

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So, the Blues power play has looked better because they simplified it. TV broadcaster John Kelly said as much during an interview on ESPN radio on Wednesday. The Blues are trying to cycle less and funnel things through the middle more. That’s the complete opposite of what happened when Tarasenko was on the ice.

Again, I do not blame him personally. This is a structural situation, taught by the coaching staff. We’ve never been able to get a clear answer as to who runs the power play, so blame is harder to give out. Some say it is Craig Berube and some say Darryl Sydor.

The bottom line is that simpler is better with this team, no matter who is in the lineup. Even when Tarasenko returns, whether it be this season or next, a more old school approach is fine.

Just because it is not en vogue does not mean there’s anything wrong with having two defensemen at the blue line and setting your forwards up in normal spots.

There is far too much thought that goes into some of these schemes. The game is played at a different pace, so setting up behind the net like Wayne Gretzky used to do is more difficult. Trying to use the half-wall as your set up point can work, but you allow defenders to be closer to the net, so passes have to be quicker and cross ice work is harder.

Additionally, having your best scorer the furthest away from the net makes zero sense. Mike Yeo and staff are not the only ones to try this, but it just does not work.

You don’t see Alex Ovechkin setting up at the point very often. He is usually planted on the left circle, looking for one-timers. Even when he has been at the point, it works because of his booming slap shot.

Tarasenko needs the freedom to roam. His main focal points should be the circles and the slot. That is where his shot is the most dangerous.

Of course the team’s power play might look better without him. It’s because everyone’s role suits them better and you are not forcing square pegs into round holes.

The mismanagement of Tarasenko on special teams has been somewhat astounding. Perhaps there is something we fans are not privy to. Maybe Tarasenko likes being in charge of the power play.

Even if that was the case, as a coach, you have to decide what is best for the team. Tarasenko needs to be closer to goal. He needs to not be the only man guarding the blue line, as has happened during some of the team’s man-advantages.

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Not having Tarasenko on the power play should not be a good thing. The fact that simplifying what the unit is trying to do and missing your best scorer shows the fundamental flaws in how things have been run.

This is something the staff has to rectify in the offseason or more futility is on the way.