The goal of St. Louis Blues and every team in the playoffs is to shut down the top players for the other team. Despite making the final four, the Blues top guys have not been able to break out of the other teams’ defensive pressure.
The St. Louis Blues got to where they are, the Western Conference Finals, because they were able to find a lineup that allowed them to roll out four lines you could all count on. Unfortunately, that ability to depend on guys lower in the game roster seems to have taken some of the edge and pressure off the team’s top guys.
During the regular season, the team’s leading goal scorer was Vladimir Tarasenko as it has been for almost every season over his career. Nothing could be farther from the truth in the playoffs.
St. Louis’ mega star scored 33 goals in the regular season and that was during a down year. Unfortunately, he has been a ghost in the playoffs.
Tarasenko has five goals during this playoff run, which is not terrible, but you have to focus on how they have come. Four of those goals have been on the power play. That should be a positive thing given the Blues power play struggles, but you need your best scorer to come through at even strength too.
Tarasenko only has one goal at five-on-five. Two goals came in one game, so there have been a lot of goose eggs next to his name.
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Beyond just not scoring, Tarasenko has failed to affect the game in a positive fashion. He has not had a goal in four games and picked up a charity assist in Game 1 against San Jose.
He was noticeably absent against the Sharks to start the conference finals. Tarasenko reverted back to his ways of not backchecking, not finding open space and skating hard and not creating. The fact his teammate Jaden Schwartz does not rub off on him, from a pure effort point of view, is disappointing.
This is not just a Tarasenko issue though. One of his current linemates, Brayden Schenn, has not done nearly enough thus far either.
Fans of his will point to his physicality and the fact he has been throwing big hits, as he did against the Sharks. Schenn has regularly been at or near the top of the Blues game list of hits, but that is the problem.
The Blues need Schenn to be engaged in the game. He has consistently taken himself out of the game looking to blow people up when that was never really his game.
After having a great offensive season in 2017-18, Schenn regressed a little but still had over 50 points in 2018-19. He currently has one goal and four points in the postseason.
Making matters worse is that Schenn is a minus-5 after one game in the conference finals. He has never been a shutdown forward, but he has the skills to be a decent defender overall. Plus/minus is a misleading stat, but Schenn’s lack of a backcheck and forcing himself into bad positions just to make hits has not really helped this team.
Also strangely absent on the offensive end is Ryan O’Reilly. The team’s leading scorer with 77 points in the regular season, O’Reilly has three goals right now. He had not scored a goal against Dallas at all. O’Reilly is, at least, getting assists, but the Blues need him to step up his goal production.
Even Jaden Schwartz has cooled off after a hot offensive start. At least he is putting in the work elsewhere and not hoping the puck will get to him somewhere around the attacking blue line.
Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals was full of mistakes. Your two best defenders managed to end up in the penalty box at the same time, giving the Sharks a five-on-three power play.
The team’s captain returned to looking lost, as he had early in the season as opposed to the solid player we saw down the stretch.
None of this is to say these players are useless or washed up or need to be benched. As we saw in the Winnipeg and Dallas series, all you need is one good game to get the positive juices flowing.
But the Blues are in crunch time here. They only have 15 games, at maximum, left.
You need your best players to be your best players. If Tarasenko is going to just glide around and not put in the work defensively, which he has earlier in the playoffs, then he has to be scoring goals. He cannot be a nonfactor.
If Schenn is determined to get big hits, maybe he needs to be put on a lower line. Being caught out of position up the ice because you took out an opponent is not so bad if your linemates are already in a defensive mindset, which they usually are not when playing on the top line.
It is, admittedly, easy to sit here and say this person should do this or that. There is another team out there with good players, whose sole goal is to deny any space to your best players.
That said, there are just too many games where you do not see the effort to get that production. It is a dangerous thing to mess with chemistry, but maybe Craig Berube should reunite Tarasenko and Schenn with O’Reilly. That was a dynamic offensive line.
Whatever the coach does or whatever the players need to do, even if you do not get goals out of them, you need to be able to say your best guys played their hardest and were some of your best players.
It is all well and good to get contributions from the bottom two lines. If your third line is your best line night after night, regardless of how talented Robert Thomas is and will be, you are in trouble.