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Pressure builds on slumping Vladimir Tarasenko after Game 5

ST. LOUIS – Vladimir Tarasenko is just one shot on goal away from busting his series-long slump and gaining some confidence in the Western Conference Final.

At least that’s how Blues coach Ken Hitchcock sees it for his struggling sniper who finished Game 5 without a goal in his team’s 6-3 loss.

“He's struggled offensively, he hasn't gotten the looks offensively that he normally gets,” Hitchcock said. “But he's one shift away from breaking it open. It's like any other goal scorer, when they don't score, there's a frustration level that comes in, and it's my job to make sure and correct the frustration level if I can."

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Really, Tarasenko, who had 40 goals during the regular season, had just one good look this game – on a third period wrist shot from the blueline that was snared by Sharks goaltender Martin Jones. Blues captain David Backes believed the shot was wired for the net, but it ended up being an easy looking stop for Jones. Tarasenko finished the night with just one shot on goal. 

“I thought he scored there in the third where he finally got a little space and got a nice shot off through a little traffic back against the grain, Just might have found a glove, I don’t know if he sees it or not,” Backes said. “Just takes a little spark and all of a sudden he’s right where he needs to be and scoring big goals for us. But he’s trying his butt off. We’re all trying our butts off.”

Tarasenko has been a difference maker this series, and not in a good way for the Blues. As the Sharks’ biggest players have gotten important goals at key times, Tarasenko has continued to struggle. 

He addressed his issues Monday morning and said as long as the team was winning he was happy. 

But in the losses, when a player like Tarasenko doesn’t score, the issues become magnified. And if the Blues don’t win Wednesday and Tarasenko is again held without a goal then there will be immediate questions as to how a player who had 10 playoff goals in his previous 12 postseason games before 2016 lost his scoring touch so suddenly this year.

Is he injured, or is there something else that’s bugging him? Everything is a mystery at this point.

“We have to bring it back for Game 7. That's the goal. He's part of the mix,” Hitchcock said.

Part of his struggles have to do with San Jose's strategy. The Sharks have neutralized him with strong defensive play – especially from blueliner Marc-Edouard Vlasic who is one of the savviest two-way defensemen in the NHL.

“Take away his time and space,” Vlasic said on the key to stopping Tarasenko. “Our forwards have been doing a good job as well supporting us. Good back pressure does not allow them to have one-on-ones with our D. Sometimes the other D is on the ice with them as well.” 

After the Blues lost Game 3 in San Jose, Hitchcock said Tarasenko needed to better understand how to fight through the Sharks and their commitment level to stopping him.

Hitchcock said it was something that only experience could teach Tarasenko. He was better in Game 4 and the Blues won, but ultimately he’s judged on goals. All it takes is just one shot and if Tarasenko does score, the complexion of his series could shift dramatically. If he can’t, then the Western Conference Final could gnaw at him all summer.  

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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

 

 

 

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