ST LOUIS – Being the host nation for the Winter Olympics brings with it the benefit of having a largely home crowd cheering for the home team, a quality all teams enjoy when not on the road. Other benefits include Russian players having their own private accommodation while athletes of other nations are doubled up or even tripled-up in rooms. Maybe that is all right because any nation with as much pressure on them as Russia should probably be allowed a few special conditions.
Blues second-year right wing Vladimir Tarasenko just wants to fit in to this high-powered hockey club. The Russian sniper arrived in St. Louis directly from the KHL where he played five seasons in pro career which began when Tarasenko was 17. Last season, his first in a Blues’ uniform, he played in 38 games scoring 8 goals and 11 assists for 19 points. His season was somewhat derailed when he suffered a concussion on the road in Colorado early in the 2013 season.
This season, he is a weapon striking fear in opponents. In 54 games, he has tallied 18 goals and 16 assists for 34 points and is a respectable +12. With increased playing time on the power play, he has 5 goals with the man-advantage. There are times were Tarasenko plays a respectable game and other times he comes out of nowhere to take over. This most recently played out when while trailing 2-0 in late in January on the road in Long Island, he single-handedly started a comeback when he notched the Blues’ first two goals. St. Louis eventually won in a shootout to cap an important 3-1-0 roadtrip.
With Pavel Datsyuk, Illya Kovalchuk and Alexander Ovechkin expected to provide plenty of offense, it is possible Tarasenko could play a critical role as a scorer opponents are not focusing on in the early rounds. His speed could wreak havoc as the tournament plays out.
After their opening preliminary game against the Slovenia, Russia faces the United States in their second game on Saturday, February 15th at 7:30 AM ET on CBC, NBCSN. The Russians then battle Slovakia to close out the preliminary round on Sunday, February 16th at 7:30 AM ET on USA Network.
As for the rest of the Blues, I will be providing previews and updates throughout the tournament. The United States will be represented by center David Backes, right wing T.J. Oshie and defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk. Canada will be represented by defensemen Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester. Sweden will be represented by left wing Alexander Steen and center Patrik Berglund. Slovakia will be represented by goaltender Jaroslav Halak.
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