After Vladimir Tarasenko saw only eight seconds of power-play ice time in the Game 6 loss in Chicago, questions continued Sunday about the ice time for the St. Louis Blues star forward.
Don’t read anything into it, said Blues coach Ken Hitchcock.
Not only had Tarasenko’s line been on a shift just before the power play late in the second period , but his ice time isn’t as high as some other Blues forwards because he’s typically not used on the penalty kill.
Also on the Blues’ lone power play of the night Saturday, they kept the puck in the Chicago zone for the majority of the infraction.
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Giving rise to more controversy was a television replay that appeared to show Tarasenko waving toward the coach as the team headed to the dressing room for the second intermission.
“No, I don’t think it’s ice-time related,” Hitchcock said Sunday. “I think he felt like yesterday he could have helped on that power play. We didn’t get a change on the power play because we had the thing in the end all the time, so ... that’s what happens when you’ve got a guy like that that wants to make a difference.
“I love it, I love it in him.”
Tarasenko has a team-high four goals in six games and is tied for the team scoring lead with six points heading into the Game 7 showdown Monday against the Chicago Blackhawks. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Tarsenko’s 14 playoff goals give him more goals in his first 19 career playoff games than any player in NHL history except Hall of Famer Joe Sakic (15).
Tarasenko’s average ice time in the playoffs has been 17 minutes, 28 seconds, which puts him behind five Blues forwards on a list led by Paul Stastny (21:53) and Alexander Steen (21:17). Tarasenko played 16:56 in Game 6 and had a goal and three shots.
However, on many nights Tarasenko’s average ice time with the team at even strength is at or near the top. His even-strength ice time of 15:29 ranks fifth, but on Saturday in Game 6 his even-strength ice time of 16:48 was the highest among the forwards.
“It’s hard because of the way he plays and the energy that he takes,” Hitchcock said. “When you view a player ... knowledgeable hockey people don’t look at time, they look at shifts, and shifts matter. He plays a short ice game with short shifts and that’s impacts his energy.
“He’s a big body that plays a lot, he gets leaned on, he leans on a lot of people. It’s very wearing. The game he plays is a physical game: it’s at the puck, it’s around the puck, it’s one-on-one and its’ very demanding.”
Hitchcock says shifts are a more important barometer than ice time and Tarasenko’s 27 shifts were more than all but two forwards. Stastny and Jaden Schwartz each had 28.
“That’s a lot of shifts and the ice time ... if you looked at it and you had 50 seconds on it instead of 33, well that’s a 23-minute player - which is incredible,” Hitchcock said. “But he’s not able to play that way ... maybe at 28 or 29 he can play that way or whatever, but he’s a young guy who plays a big man’s game that’s physically demanding, especially at this time of the year.
“I had him 11 or 12 shifts in the third period. You just can’t put a guy out on the ice any more than that, but he’s a short shift guy so you’ve just got to live with it. “
Stastny didn’t read anything into a perceived disagreement between Tarasenko and Hitchcock.
“The top guys want to be out there 60 minutes a game if they could,” Stastny said. “There are always going to be little things caught in the heat of the moment. Like any good player, he shakes it off on the next shift. He never lets it linger.”
Game 7 - worth noting
The Blues-Blackhawks game at 7:30 p.m. Monday will be televised by Fox Sports Midwest in the local market, as well as nationally on NBCSN outside the local markets of St. Louis and Chicago. Radio coverage is on Y98 FM.
This is the Blues’ first Game 7 since 2003 and they are 6-8 in previous Game 7s throughout their franchise history. Their last Game 7 victory was a 1-0 overtime win at Phoenix with current Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville working for the Blues at the time.
The player in this series with the most Game 7 appearances is Blackhawks forward Marian Hossa, who be in his 10th Game 7. The Blues forward with the most Game 7 appearances is Troy Brouwer with seven.