It’s Fair To Criticize Tarasenko. But Let’s Be Fair, and Not Insane

If hockey had a confessional, it would be inside the goal-judge booth. I can imagine sitting in there, covering it with a black-cloth overlay for privacy, and owning up to thy sins.

I would begin the process by offering a solemn hello to Captain James Sutherland …  aka “The Father of Hockey,” … I would try to unburden myself of guilt by immediately declaring two transgressions:

1.  I confess that I am overly protective of Blues forward Vladimir Tarasenko. He’s the easy target of lazy imbeciles, and I enjoy pushing back on lazy imbeciles. But I confess that there are intelligent people, respectable and knowledgeable fans, who are disappointed in Tarasenko’s performance this season. And their reasons are reasonable, fair, and valid. Even if I wanted to, I cannot reject their opinions … because they are smart jurists … and because they use their ample brains… which makes them different from the mouth-breathers who keep their tiny brains stored in abundant backsides.

2.  I confess that Tarasenko has frustrated me at times this season with his inconsistency and seeming lack of effort. His malfeasance is not a chronic condition, no matter how many retired goons say so. The disappointing effort is more along misdemeanor than felony. But never mind that; relative to seasons past I’ve been burning with a little more Tarasenko irritation with Tarasenko over the last six weeks or so.

3. Oh, and Captain Sutherland, the revered Father of Hockey … while I’m here please allow me to confess that I misbehaved by using terms such as “lazy imbeciles” and “mouth breathers” and by using the phrase “abundant backsides.” Name calling isn’t polite. And speaking of abundant backsides,  who the hell am I to talk? I packed on a few more pounds over the holiday season.

OK, so I confessed.

Here’s what I refuse to do …

Overstate — to the point of lunacy — the bothersome aspects of Tarasenko’s imperfections and violations.

That’s the problem with the fiery souls who become so predictably aroused and angry when Tarasenko has a bad shift, a bad game, a bad week. They fire up the criticism to such preposterous  levels, you’d think that the Blues were wasting a roster spot on him, and that Tarasenko should be playing in the AHL. Question: will the Blues send Tarasenko to San Antonio to get some work in the minors during their bye? Or do they just plan to waive him? These are the things I start thinking about when the Tarasenko hate — the madness and the howling — get cranked up.

I must have missed it when Vladimir Tarsenko turned into Vladimir Orszagh.

Can Tarsenko play better? Of course. Does he need to sharpen his focus? On some hockey nights, yes. Does he need to be more resilient and ward off frustration? Absolutely.

What Tarasenko needs to do more than anything is keep firing the damn puck.

His luck will change.

And so will his goal-scoring rate.

Tarasenko leads the NHL with 191 shots on goal. But his percentage of shots on net that result in goals, 9.9 percent, is well below his career rate of 13.4 percent — and his lowest in a season since 2013-2014.

If Tarasenko can pull up the shooting percentage closer to his career standard, more shots will become goals. But it’s also true that Tarasenko is wildly inaccurate this season, with   a league-high   77 shots missing the net entirely. And No. 91 has blasted 61 shots wide of the goal; only Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin has done that more times (64) this season.

And some of this is, indeed, a matter or rotten luck. The ledger should balance out. And it’s happening already. Tarasenko’s shooting percentage of 6.3 percent for December was brutally low, a statistical outlier. But he’s heated up lately, with eight points in his last seven games. And though this is a snippet sample, Tarasenko’s has a 15.8 percent shooting percentage in the early days of January.

This is what we’re fussing about, right?

Tarasenko has 19 goals and 25 assists for 44 points in 46 games this season.

Tarasenko’s average of 0.51 assists per game would be his highest in a season. His average of 0.96 points per game would be his most productive rate in a season. He has a plus 16 rating at even strength; that would be his third-best in a season.

Tarasenko is averaging 0.41 goals per game this season, and that’s down from his usual pace. That 0.41 mark would be his lowest since the 2013-2014 season. But this isn’t a random development. I’ve already discussed Tarasenko’s shooting accuracy and shooting luck.

Now let’s talk about his line mates.

Clicking on a torrid line with Jaden Schwartz and Brayden Schenn earlier this season — until Schwartz went out with a fractured foot 16 games ago, on Dec. 9 at Detroit — Tarsenko was averaging 0.46 goals per game. Much better, right? Sure. But with Schwartz missing, Tarasenko has five goals in 16 contests … an average of 0.31 goals per game.

Tarasenko was getting a lot done with assistance from Schwartz … and that’s because Schwartz, until his injury was having one of the short-list best seasons by an NHL forward at even strength. But this isn’t a deal where Tarasenko needed Schwartz to prop him up. This was a beneficial relationship for all three players.

There’s no question of the Schwartz value; he clearly was the Blues best player and MVP until felled by a wicked slap shot on the boot. Yes, Tarsenko and Schenn each had a better Corsi possession rating with Schwartz than without Schwartz. But this isn’t anything unusual; good players make each other better.

For example, Ovechkin’s productivity peaks when he’s on a line with Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson. Ovie has accumulated about 27 percent of his points as a member of that line — and that points percentage dips to about 16 percent when he’s playing on another line.

Same with Schenn and Schwartz and Tarasenko.

Here are some even-strength numbers:

— Tarasenko has lined up with Schenn and Schwartz 47.8 percent of the time this season and has 13 points. That’s 39 percent of his total points this season. But Tarasenko hasn’t starved without Schwartz. When Tarsenko has joined Paul Stastny with either Vladimir Sabotka or Ivan Barbashev on the opposite wing, he’s delivered nine points, or 27 percent of his total this season.

— Schenn has played 61.9 percent of time with Tarasenko and Schwartz on his line, and 43.8 percent of his point total this season came with that line. Schenn hasn’t done nearly as much in other setups since Schwartz limped off.

— Schwartz has played 63.1 percent of the time with Tarasenko and Schenn, and put up 56.7 percent of his points (17) while with that top line. But for all of the credit Schwartz receives for igniting his line mates — and he deserves plenty — it’s interesting to note that he hasn’t done nearly as well (10 points) when working on four other line mixes that don’t have  Tarasenko or Schenn.

Tarasenko will be fine. He doesn’t need a crutch.

For the most part he’s good wherever you put him.

According to the metrics at Hockey Reference, Tarasenko’s projected adjusted-goals created total, 31, would tie his top rate in a season.

Tarasenko to this point of the season has created 0.36 goals per game, which in line with his career metric … just a sliver less.

Tarasenko is scoring less often, but I am convinced the goals will come when his shooting percentage, shooting accuracy, and shooting luck improve.

Here’s something to think about: if Tarasenko is banking fewer goals for his own total but is doing a swell job of setting up more goals for his teammates — as evidenced by the best assist rate of his career — then why are we doing so much snarling over his play? If Tarasenko indeed finishes with his top average for points per game  in a season … then why is this such a disgrace?

Answer: It isn’t.

More is expected of Tarasenko because of his talent and his big contract. That’s part of the deal. And it is absolutely fair to hold him to higher standards …  and to crab when he comes up short. I agree with that.

I’m just tired of irrational critics who make Tarasenko’s shortcomings seem a helluva lot worse than they really are. The degree of animosity directed at this dude is completely out of proportion, completely ridiculous, and completely loony.

That’s all I got, Father of Hockey.

I’m leaving the goal-judge booth confessional now.

Thanks for reading and pardon my typos…


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