‘Vintage’ performance reminds us what a healthy Vladimir Tarasenko can do

Vladimir tarasenko
Scott Rovak/NHLI via Getty Images

Vladimir Tarasenko took off the headset and glanced around the energized Enterprise Center. His postgame interview with Bally Sports Midwest’s Darren Pang got off to a delayed start as the Blues forward — and First Star of Monday’s 3-0 win over the Kings — soaked in the “Vladi! Vladi! Vladi!” chants and acknowledged the crowd.

It was a deserved moment of recognition for the veteran forward. Tarasenko’s two goals helped St. Louis to a 5-0-0 start and the appreciation from the hometown fans showed just how much he has meant to the city and franchise.

“That was a special moment,” said Tarasenko afterward. “It was very emotional. We always have support from the real fans. I always said it in the interviews. Our family got so much help from people from St. Louis. The support through this 10 years was very awesome.”

Whatever led to Tarasenko requesting a trade from the Blues over the summer is in the past now. Following two seasons where shoulder issues limited him to only 34 regular season games, the 29-year-old forward has looked like his old self early on with three goals and six points in five games.

If there were any questions about three shoulder surgeries affecting him this season, Tarasenko has put them to bed so far. His first goal Monday night was an electric moment to open the scoring in the third period.

“That’s just an unbelievable move… vintage ‘Vladi,'” said linemate Robert Thomas. “He’s a player that can make those moves and you guys have seen it over the years, and I mean it was a beauty. It’s a ton of fun skating up the ice behind him, watching him make some magic. Big goal for the team and big goal for him.”

“He’s been getting a lot of opportunities to score and they haven’t gone in like he wants,” said Blues head coach Craig Berube. “We want him to score too, and it was really good to see, and getting the second one was a big goal.”

“I mean, sometimes you need to try something, not just shoot the puck,” Tarasenko said of his deke around LA defenseman Mikey Anderson. “Good thing it worked out.”

Tarasenko has not been shy about letting it rip. Through five game he has 26 shots on goal, and the opportunities have been coming in prime scoring areas.

Via Icy Data

Blues are rolling

This is the first time the Blues have won five straight to open a season. Tarasenko is healthy and producing. David Perron is picking up where he left off last season. Jordan Kyrou is breaking out. The goaltending is coming up big. Everything is clicking right now.

Tarasenko’s play is a huge factor in St. Louis’ early-season success. After missing so many games the last two seasons he’s happy to be healthy and back out on the ice contributing to a winning team.

We don’t know if Tarasenko rescinded his trade request and if his long-term future will be in St. Louis. He said at the start of training camp he was “here to work” and that his wanting out was “all behind.” Being a distraction was not something he wanted to have happened and he was supported by his teammates and head coach.

What Tarasenko saw and heard as he looked around the rink after Monday’s win was an appreciation for what he’s brought to the franchise, which includes his role in the 2018-19 Stanley Cup title. It’s those moments that are never forgotten by fans.

“Things come out and players are unhappy at times,” said Berube. “In the end, he’s here, he’s playing for the Blues, he wants to be here, we need him to perform at a high level, and he is. The fans are going to cheer for him.”

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Scroll Down For:

    Ducks’ Urho Vaakanainen crashes into boards, leaves on stretcher

    Getty Images
    1 Comment

    ANAHEIM, Calif. — Ducks defenseman Urho Vaakanainen was taken off the Honda Center ice on a stretcher after he crashed into the end boards in the first period of Anaheim’s preseason game against the San Jose Sharks.

    The Finnish defenseman was conscious and alert with full movement in his extremities at UCI Medical Center, the Ducks said.

    The frightening incident occurred midway through the opening period when Vaakanainen smashed into the boards at a dangerous speed behind the Sharks’ net. Vaakanainen appeared to be concentrating on the pass he had just made to Derek Grant, who scored the Ducks’ opening goal on the assist.

    Vaakanainen’s teammates came onto the ice and gathered around him as he was taken away on the stretcher.

    The Ducks acquired the 23-year-old Vaakanainen from Boston last March in the deal that sent longtime Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm to the Bruins. After recording two assists in 14 games for the Ducks last season, Vaakanainen is attempting to win a top-six role on Anaheim’s defense this fall.

    Lightning donate $2 million to Hurricane Ian relief efforts

    tampa bay lightning
    Scott Audette/Getty Images
    2 Comments

    TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Lightning and team owner Jeff Vinik are donating $2 million toward Hurricane Ian relief efforts.

    The NHL team announced that $1 million each will be donated by the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation and the Vinik Family Foundation.

    “This is a tragic situation for many families and communities across the state of Florida, but especially so in the southwest region of the state,” Vinik said in a statement released by the team. “In times like these the most important thing we can do is support one another, and we hope this donation will help families recover and rebuild in the months to come.”

    Ian made landfall Wednesday on Florida’s Gulf Coast, south of the Tampa Bay area. The Lightning postponed two home preseason games and moved the club’s training camp to Nashville, Tennessee, during the storm.

    Maple Leafs sign defenseman Rasmus Sandin to 2-year deal

    Rasmus Sandin
    Julian Avram/Getty Images
    2 Comments

    TORONTO — Rasmus Sandin has signed a two-year, $2.8 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the club announced on Thursday.

    The 22-year-old from Sweden was the 29th overall selection in the 2018 draft. Sandin had 16 points in 51 games with Toronto last season. He’s played in 88 career regular-season games, with six goals and 22 assists, and has one goal in five playoff games.

    “Got a great set of tools,” fellow defenseman Jake Muzzin said. “With experience, I think they’re only going to get better.”

    The signing comes as the Leafs’ blueliners been hit hard by injuries. Muzzin has been dealing with a back issue, and Timothy Liljegren recently had surgery for a hernia.

    Toronto then lost Jamie Benn (groin) and Carl Dahlstrom (shoulder) in Wednesday’s 3-0 preseason victory over the Montreal Canadiens, pressing forwards Calle Jarnkrok and Alexander Kerfoot into defensive roles for two periods.

    Back with Wild, Fleury welcomes big workload as clear No. 1

    marc-andre fleury
    David Berding/Getty Images
    2 Comments

    ST. PAUL, Minn. — With his ever-present smile, tireless approach and long list of accomplishments in the net, Marc-Andre Fleury has always embraced a heavy workload.

    The Minnesota Wild sure haven’t shied away from leaning hard on their new – and 37-year-old – goalie. After arriving in a deadline-day trade in March and re-signing with the Wild in July, the guy everyone calls “Flower” is still fully abloom as he begins his 19th season in the NHL.

    “They say, `You play,’ I play, unless maybe I’m hurt or something,” Fleury said. “But other than that, I like playing.”

    Wild general manager Bill Guerin initially planned to bring back both Fleury and Cam Talbot, who made the All-Star team and went 13-0-3 in his last 16 regular season starts before being benched in favor of Fleury for the first-round playoff series against St. Louis. The Wild lost in six games, after Talbot got the cold start in the elimination game and gave up four goals on 26 shots.

    Guerin changed his mind, though, after signing Fleury to a two-year, $7 million contract. Realizing Talbot’s frustration from the lack of postseason action, he didn’t want to risk any tension or discontent. Talbot was traded to Ottawa for Filip Gustavsson, who will be the No. 2 goalie while top prospect Jesper Wallstedt gets more development in the AHL.

    Gustavsson has only 23 career regular-season starts, nearly 200 fewer than Talbot, so it’s a good bet that Fleury will get the majority of the games.

    “I was ready to share the load with him, but things didn’t work out and happy to be having the chance to play maybe a bit more. It’s fun to play. It’s more fun than sitting on the bench,” said Fleury, who went 28-23-5 in 56 combined starts for Chicago and Minnesota last season with a 2.90 goals against average and a .908 save percentage.

    The Wild reconvened for training camp last week, beginning their quest to recapture the mojo they enjoyed last season while setting franchise records for points (113), wins (53) and goals (305). The only team that finished ahead of them in the Western Conference was Colorado, which went on to win the Stanley Cup, but they never met the Avs in the playoffs because the Blues got to them first.

    There’s a strong chemistry in place, at least, to build upon.

    “We still have a lot of guys here who were here last year. We’re just trying to make it even better, just trying to listen to everybody,” center Joel Eriksson Ek said. “We want to set a standard and a way for how hard this team’s going to work.”

    The Wild start the regular season by hosting the New York Rangers on Oct. 13.

    COMINGS AND GOINGS

    The most significant roster move of the summer amongst the skaters was the inevitable salary-cap-driven trade of second-leading scorer Kevin Fiala to Los Angeles. Fiala had a career-high 33 goals and 52 assists last season. Guerin otherwise dabbled mostly in two-way contracts in free agency for depth. Former Anaheim center Sam Steel signed with Minnesota last month, one day after defenseman Dimitry Kulikov was dealt to the Ducks.

    MORE POWER

    The Wild were done in during the playoffs by abysmal special teams. They went just 4 for 24 on the power play against the Blues, and head coach Dean Evason had the team working on that on the first day on the ice. The penalty kill that lagged last season was a focus of the second practice.

    “It has to get better, no question,” Evason said.

    BLUE LINE SHUFFLE

    Captain Jared Spurgeon has been placed with Jonas Brodin on the first pair on defense, and Jake Middleton has joined Matt Dumba on the second unit. Dumba and Brodin are close friends who’ve been paired together for several seasons.

    “Dumbs is a shooter too,” said Middleton, who re-signed for three years and $7.35 million. “It’s pretty exciting. I can get some cookies passing him the puck. That’d be a big plus. I think it’ll work well. He loves hitting guys too. He plays a gritty game as well so I think we’ll be a good combo.”

    UP FRONT

    With Jordan Greenway recovering from offseason surgeries, Tyson Jost will get the first chance to skate with Eriksson Ek and Marcus Foligno. The departure of Fiala has opened at least one spot for a rookie to make the team, with 2020 first-round draft pick Marco Rossi in line for it.

    ON THE SLATE

    This is the first time in eight years the Wild will play their regular-season opener at home. After three more games at Xcel Energy Center, they don’t hit the road until a five-game trip that starts Oct. 22 at Boston. The Wild have a season-long nine-game homestand from Feb. 9-21.