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Tarasenko didn't disappear, Vlasic just dominated (Trending Topics)

Because hockey observers must have an inexhaustible supply of opinions on all things, one of the things that got talked about a lot in the now-finished Western Conference Final was that Vladimir Tarasenko was a no-show.

He finished the series with two goals and no assists in six games, and both those strikes came in garbage time in the series' only elimination game. He mustered 15 shots on goal, tied for the most on the team, but that number would have only been fifth on the Sharks. That's how badly not only he, but his entire team got pushed around.

Star players get paid to show up and all that. That's what the people were yelling about Tarasenko's non-performance, because this sport in particular seems to place undue pressure on star players to perform, and blame them when an entire team fails. This despite the fact that even the sport's busiest players — high-end defensemen — only play about half the game in best-case scenarios for their teams. Star forwards probably play closer to 35 percent of the game.

Tarasenko ended up with a little more than 110 minutes out of a possible 360. He probably would have liked to play more, but that's not his call. And it does circle back, a little bit, to the idea that Ken Hitchcock underused him despite the fact that the Blues were often in search of goals throughout the series.

But again, Tarasenko wasn't providing them for all but the final 15 minutes or so, leading one to wonder whether Hitchcock was putting entirely too much faith in the Jori Lehteras and Troy Brouwers of the world.

A reasonable observer, though, would argue that Tarasenko's inability to score in this Western Conference Final wasn't a result of him necessarily underperforming, but rather the fact that Marc-Edouard Vlasic just ran him straight into the ground with frightening consistency. 

Just two numbers to keep in mind for the rest of this piece: Four. And Zero. Remember those two numbers. 

The idea that Vlasic in particular is a dominant defender against top goalscoring talent is not new, but it seems to have really taken seat in this postseason. Adam Gretz had a good breakdown of how well he handled the top goalscorers on the Nashville Predators and into this round (I'm not willing to call shuttering Tyler Toffoli the hardest minutes possible against Los Angeles), but the job he did against St. Louis in particular was frighteningly efficient. 

At 5-on-5, Vlasic played 47:11 of his nearly 100 minutes over six games against Tarasenko, by far his most common opponent. During that time, Tarasenko's teammates were out-attempted to the tune of just a 42.9 percent raw possession number. Adjust for score situation — because the Sharks spent much of the series up multiple goals — and things get even uglier.

But against everyone else, Tarasenko actually pushed play very slightly (50.6 percent, 39-38), which you'd expect from a player of his talent level, even against a club as good as the Sharks.

For the series, Tarasenko ended up looking quite bad, yes, but so did the entire team. San Jose was just significantly better in almost every aspect, and even as the Blues won twice, most people had to acknowledge, “Well, they were pretty lucky there.” For the series, they ended up a minus-38 or so in score-adjusted possession, gave up almost 47(!) more more scoring chances, and generated fewer than 38 high-danger shot attempts of their own. They committed more penalties, and got outscored at full strength a whopping 14-6. A pretty convincing argument could be made that they were doomed from the start.

Let's put it this way: Entering the series, Tarasenko was a high-quality player. Not only was he scoring plenty of goals and racking up assists (4-2-6 against Chicago, 3-4-7 against Dallas), he was a solid driver of just about everything you could want from a player, relative to the rest of his team. The only area in which he lagged behind was, interestingly, goalscoring, because he was merely a break-even player in the first two series — which you might expect given the high-end firepower on Chicago and Dallas — while the rest of the Blues outscored those teams' depth players to the tune of 60 percent goals-for. 

But when it came to the San Jose series, Tarasenko didn't disappear as long as you knew where to look. He was right in Vlasic's pocked the entire time:

Now, you look at those numbers and you say, “Hey, he wasn't a drag in relative goalscoring or high-quality chance generation.” True enough, and that's probably about what you'd expect for a player of his caliber. But what you have to also realize is that even with the positive high-danger chance impact, he still checked in at just 43.6 percent for the series. And goals-for? He was at just 33.3 percent, while the rest of the team scraped the bottom of the barrel at 28.6 percent.

The Blues got absolutely smoked in this series, from front to back, and if you're going to blame Tarasenko for any of it, I think that's a bit reductive. He wasn't good, to be sure, but the rest of the team was jaw-droppingly awful as well. Or, more to the point, San Jose was just that much better.

But how do we know Vlasic was that dominant, and this wasn't just a product of the entire team playing a brutally efficient six games? Even if you didn't watch a single second of this series — possibly in deference to how badly St. Louis was always going to get fed its lunch  — all you'd have to do is look at the numbers.

Let's actually circle back to where the numbers “four” and “zero” are concerned in Vlasic's 99:59 TOI at 5-on-5 in this series:

The Sharks gave up just four high-danger chances with Vlasic on. They gave up zero goals.

You can “small sample size” that all you want, but that's just dominant hockey. 

It helps that the team scored goals by the bucket in this series, averaging nearly four a game. But if we're talking about the big reasons the Sharks advanced, the way Vlasic made Tarasenko fall into a black hole is probably No. 1.

And when he's effectively a second-pairing defenseman, that poses too many matchup problems for just about anyone to handle.

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here. 

All stats via War on Ice unless otherwise stated.

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