Wednesday Night Hockey: Blues prepare for life without Tarasenko

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

We knew that the defending Stanley Cup Champions would go through adversity at some point this season. Well, we’ve reached that point.

Earlier this week, the team announced that forward Vladimir Tarasenko was going to miss five months because of a shoulder injury. That’s a tough pill to swallow if you’re St. Louis. The 27-year-old has scored 37, 40, 39, 33 and 33 goals over the last five seasons. He also had 10 points in 10 games to start the year.

The Russian winger has already missed two games. The Blues dropped the first one, 3-0, to Boston in a Stanley Cup rematch, and they won the second one, 5-4, in overtime against Detroit.

“Obviously we’re a much better team with him in the lineup,” center Ryan O’Reilly said, per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “He’s one of those guys that others teams look at. When he’s on the ice they’re scared. When he gets an opportunity he’s going to bury it. He’s just always creating, doing something.

“It’s tough loss, but we all have to rally here. We all have to find a way to get better.”

During Tuesday’s practice, head coach Craig Berube had Sammy Blais in Tarasenko’s spot on a line with Brayden Schenn and Jaden Schwartz. No disrespect to Blais, but he’s clearly not on the same level as a perennial 30-goal scorer.

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If Berube wants to mix things up, he could also put Robert Thomas, who is more gifted offensively, on the first line. Regardless, the Blues have plenty of time to figure out different combinations. The good news is that whoever gets placed there doesn’t have to carry the line. Schenn is having a solid year (nine goals, 13 points in 12 games) and Schwartz, who can stand to score more goals, is having a good year too (one goal, 10 points in 12 games).

For those clamouring for general manager Doug Armstrong to make a trade, that seems possible but unlikely at this point. The Blues have already made one blockbuster trade this year, when they acquired Justin Faulk from Carolina. Can they swing another big deal? Sure. It just seems impossible to land someone that can replace Tarasenko’s production right away.

There’s a decent chance that Tarasenko’s offense will be replaced by a committee of players. Some of the depth players like Blais, Thomas, Tyler Bozak, Alex Steen (when he returns from injury), but they should be in good hands with Schenn, O’Reilly and David Perron.

If the Blues can hang in there until late March/early April, they’ll likely benefit from getting a rested Tarasenko back right in time for the playoffs. Can they hold on for that long?

Kathryn Tappen will host Wednesday’s coverage on NHL Live alongside analysts Patrick Sharp and Keith Jones and NHL insider Bob McKenzie. John Forslund, Mike Milbury and Brian Boucher will call Wild-Blues from Enterprise Center in St. Louis, MO.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.