Vladimir Tarasenko, the anti-Brett Hull, seldom reveals his emotions to reporters. It’s frustrating, because his thoughts matter to so many people, but it’s how he goes about his business — icy off ice.
Thus the All-Star has been pretty reserved about that whole coach-firing thing. One could argue that the silence spoke volumes. But finally, after Thursday’s win, he opened up (a tad) to my question about why the Blues play well under Mike Yeo.
“We changed our strategy a little bit,” Tarasenko said. “It’s not a question of (if Ken) Hitchcock was better or good or something like that — both coaches are great. But we didn’t play like we were supposed to do, we didn’t play 100 percent before. But now, I hope we find our game. Try to play more aggressive and the main part is play for each other. If one guy makes a mistake, you see how many guys are blocking shots, back checks and all this stuff. Play for each other every moment, every day and every game and go small steps.
“Our goal is the Stanley Cup, and that’s why we’re here.”
Can this team in transition win the Cup? They’re now playing a zippy brand of hockey with stalwart goaltending, a functioning zone defensive scheme and an attitude refreshed following the firing. They may not win the Stanley Cup, but at least they’ll probably make the Stanley Cup playoffs. But a couple of things we have to remember: 1. The minor-league guys are probably going to come back to earth at some point. 2. It’s very possible St. Louis trades No. 2 point leader Kevin Shattenkirk or fellow unrestricted free agent Patrik Berglund, who’s been actually scoring goals and also made a statement shot-block early in Thursday’s victory over Vancouver.
Perhaps general manager Doug Armstrong could trade one guy for assets, but keep the other for a playoff run?
As for Tarasenko, the biggest difference under Yeo has been his average time on ice. In the eight games since Hitch’s firing, No. 91 has averaged 19:46 per game. In the 50 games under Hitch this season, Tarasenko averaged 18:04.
In the Hitch 50, Tarasenko scored 22 goals with 27 assists and a minus-11 rating in plus-minus.
In the following eight under Yeo, he scored five goals with an assist … and a plus-three rating.
“Every goal is not totally (about the) guy who scored,” he said. “It’s all five guys on the ice.”
A story to follow — what center will Yeo pair with Tarasenko into March and April (and maybe May)? Clearly, Tarasenko enjoys playing with Jori Lehtera, who has underwhelmed from a points and face-off standpoint this season — though, in a tight game Thursday, he set a Karl Malone-like screen in front of the Canucks goalie, blocking that gent’s view of a pretty shot and goal by Tarasenko.
Paul Stastny wins face-offs and fared well when, this month, was paired with No. 91. I love the Tarasenko-Stastny-Alexander Steen line. We’ll have to see how much we see it.
Check this out, regarding the Blues and blocked shots. Entering Friday, there had been exactly 100 NHL games played since Feb. 1 (Yeo’s first game). So, that makes for 200 shot-block totals (one for each team in each game). Of those 200 shot-block totals, only one team has put up three of the 20 highest totals, and that team is St. Louis (24 at Montreal, 22 at Philadelphia and 21 against Toronto in Yeo’s first game).
What is the Blues’ shot-blocking mentality?
“Desperation,” Yeo said. “Recognizing that every play could be the difference in the hockey game. That’s what we continue to try to build. All those little plays add up to the difference in a game. And what I like about it now is — every night it’s a different guy.”
A little advice for Mizzou – do a little inquiry of Michael Porter Sr.
See if the Washington assistant hoops coach would be interested in returning to Columbia under the new coach’s staff (assuming, of course, there will be a new coach). It’s worth a shot. Because maybe, just maybe, Mizzou could entice both Porter and his son, high school hoops sensation Michael Jr., to both return from the Seattle area to Columbia (and both of Porter Sr.’s daughters play for the Mizzou women’s team).
The younger Michael, and his brother, Jontay, are currently committed to Washington, where dad is an assistant to tight family friend Lorenzo Romar, who coaches Washington’s perennial underachievers. The Huskies are 9-17 – and that’s with Markelle Fultz, a projected top-three pick in the NBA draft.
Honestly, Michael and his brother are both so highly touted, it’s worth wondering if Mizzou should try to hire Romar as the head coach. Again, just saying, but maybe there’s a chance to get all the Porters without Romar.
As for the team of Cierra Porter (and the injured Bri Porter), the Mizzou women’s hoops squad is clicking. The Tigers are 18-9 after a win at Florida — and ESPN.com bracketologist Charlie Creme has Mizzou as a No. 7 seed in the NCAA Tournament. You’ve read a lot about Sophie Cunningham lately — she scored 28 points in the win at Florida. The Tigers now have 18 wins for the third consecutive season. The last time they did this? It was from 1984-1987.
But perhaps the biggest news involving Mizzou this week was the undergrad who won a date with the tennis star Genie Bouchard. During Super Bowl LI, Bouchard tweeted about the Falcons taking a huge lead. On Twitter, Mizzou student John Goehrke made a bet — if the Patriots came back to win, she had to go on a date with him.
And, yep, she was a woman of her word — this week, Geohrke flew to New York for the date. And so, after my ill-fated 1998 courting of Conchita Martínez, Mizzou students are now one for two on getting a date with a pro tennis player.
All-Star snub! St. Louis native Bradley Beal (Chaminade) was considered to be, if you will, the 13th-best player in the NBA’s cheap jerseys Eastern Conference. So when All-Star Kevin Love went down with injury, many thought the Wizards guard would earn Love’s spot in Sunday’s game. After all, since the announcing of the All-Star reserves, Washington is 8-1 and Beal has averaged 24.3 points. Instead, the league picked the beleaguered Carmelo Anthony, a forward, to replace Love. Anthony averages more points, but his Knicks are reeling.
Have the Kroenkes actually discovered a potential star player? The Denver Nuggets (and the Colorado Avalanche … and the NFL’s Rams) have been a franchise in flux. Flummoxed. But may I introduce to you Nikola Joki. He’s like Darko Milicic if Darko had actually made it. From Jan. 12 to now, Jokic has averaged 23.4 points, 11.2 rebounds and 5.6 assists. He’s 6-foot-11. And the Nuggets are 10-5 in games he’s played.
He turns just 22 on Sunday.
Lastly, Saturday night is the NBA All-Star Weekend’s Taco Bell Skills Challenge. If there were actually a challenge involving the skills of eating Taco Bell, I’d be the Michael Jordan.