Vladimir Tarasenko told the St. Louis Blues he wants to lead them to another level.
After a sixth consecutive playoff appearance without a trip to the Stanley Cup Final, what is the next level for the Blues?
“Winning a Cup?” coach Mike Yeo said.
“Win a Cup, obviously,” Tarasenko said.
The championship expectations haven’t been lowered in Yeo’s first full season as coach after taking over for Ken Hitchcock last February. With Tarasenko, goaltender Jake Allen and captain Alex Pietrangelo in the prime of their careers, the Blues feel like they just have to raise their usually strong regular-season play in the playoffs.
“For me it’s just a little bit more success in the postseason,” Yeo said. “What I like is our group, we won a round last year and nobody was satisfied, nobody was happy with that. We know we’ve got a hard-fought season ahead of us here. Our division is nuts, and every day is going to be a dogfight and we’ll have to do everything we can to be on top of our game to make the playoffs. But we also think that we have a team that can do some damage when we get there.”
The Blues added more skill up front by acquiring Brayden Schenn from Philadelphia and signed defenseman Colton Parayko long term to shore up one of the best blue lines in the NHL. Yeo wants his team to play fast and aggressively, hold on to the puck and do it all starting in the defensive end.
Players seem to buy into that philosophy and like Yeo’s approach.
“He brings a lot of confidence and a lot of positivity to the group,” Tarasenko said. “The main thing what I like, he tried to get our mindset that when we win a game, it’s not a surprise anymore or it seems it happens by accident. It’s supposed to happen like this. We’re supposed to trust each other and be more confident out there.”
The Blues do have a lot of injuries and got bad news Wednesday when forward Robby Fabbri was lost for the season after re-injuring his surgically repaired left knee.
Some things to watch with the Blues this season:
JAKE THE SNAKE
Allen had a 2.86 goals-against average and .895 save percentage in 36 games under Hitchcock last season and improved to 1.88 and .937 in his 36 with Yeo as assistant general manager Martin Brodeur lent a helping hand on the ice. Allen was a significant reason the Blues beat the Minnesota Wild in the first round, and if he keeps that up they are Cup contenders.
With 39 goals last season, Tarasenko led St. Louis and tied for fourth-most in the league. There’s little doubt he could win the Rocket Richard Trophy as the top goal-scorer, though Yeo sees more in Tarasenko than a one-way superstar.
“He’s a guy that I trust in any situation,” Yeo said. “He’s a guy that wants to make a difference in the game, and he does it defensively as well as offensively.”
SINGING THE BLUES
St. Louis starts the season without injured defenseman Jay Bouwmeester (ankle) and forwards Alexander Steen (hand), Patrik Berglund (shoulder), Zach Sanford (shoulder) and Fabbri. The Blues are no stranger to major injuries, and this time they could provide opportunities for prospects like Vince Dunn, Jake Walman, Tage Thompson and Samuel Blais.
SCHENN IN, LEHTERA OUT
There’s no doubt the Blues got more skilled by trading Finnish center Jori Lehtera and draft picks to the Flyers for Schenn, who had 55 points last season. Critics can point to Schenn’s lack of even-strength scoring, but he led the NHL with 17 power-play goals, which should be a boost as St. Louis doesn’t have Kevin Shattenkirk anymore.
As the Wild found out in the playoffs, the Blues have become versatile in being able to win in different ways.
“They’re a big team,” Minnesota forward Charlie Coyle said. “They have those bigger guys who run and gun and come right at you, bumping and grinding, and they have those not-so-big guys who are skilled and make plays, but they compete. They compete and they come at you hard.”
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