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Blues forward Tarasenko thriving in clutch situations

by Arpon Basu

Ken Hitchcock just threw the number out there off the top of his head.

Of course, the St. Louis Blues coach has so much information packed into that head, maybe it shouldn't be that surprising.

But when talking recently about his offensive leader, right wing Vladimir Tarasenko, Hitchcock made an observation about Tarasenko's scoring tendencies that appeared to be an estimate.

It wasn't.

"Those goals he scores, even if there's just 30 or whatever, I guarantee you two-thirds of them will be important goals again," Hitchcock said. "That's critical for us."

And that's bad news for the Chicago Blackhawks, who will host the Blues in this week's Wednesday Night Rivalry game (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TVA Sports).

Tarasenko scored 37 goals last season, tied for fifth in the NHL. It was a breakout performance that was rewarded by the Blues in the offseason with an eight-year, $60 million contract.

The $7.5 million average annual value puts Tarasenko in elite company at age 23.

A big contract like that at such a young age could make some players wilt under the added pressure. But Tarasenko has done the opposite, picking up where he left off last season with six goals and 10 points in 11 games.

There's a reason why Tarasenko is not intimidated by comparisons to some of the League's top offensive players.

"I just don't think about it," he said.

Tarasenko instead focuses on competing and helping the Blues win games, leading them in scoring and helping them survive the absences of forwards Jaden Schwartz (fractured ankle), Paul Stastny (fractured foot) and Patrik Berglund (shoulder surgery).

"If he gets an opening, he gets the time to get a shot off, I don't want to be a goalie trying to stop it," Blues captain David Backes said. "It's impressive. We're glad he's on our side and helping us win games. He gets one chance and that's all he needs."

What's even more impressive is how Tarasenko takes advantage of those chances when the Blues need it most.

Hitchcock's estimate that two-thirds of Tarasenko's goals could be considered important was extraordinarily accurate.

Of Tarasenko's 37 goals last season, 23 of them tied the game or gave the Blues the lead, which is 62.1 percent of his goals. Not included in that total is the first of three goals he scored Dec. 16, 2014 against the Los Angeles Kings, one that cut a 2-0 Blues deficit in half midway through the second period. St. Louis scored four times in the third period and won the game 5-2, so it would be fair to assume Hitchcock considered Tarasenko's first goal that night to be an important goal.

When that goal is included, Tarasenko's "important goal" percentage for last season jumps to 64.9 percent, or almost exactly two-thirds.

When it comes to this season, Hitchcock might have been selling Tarasenko short. Five of his six goals either have tied the game or gave the Blues a lead.

All of Tarasenko's goals have been scored after the first intermission; two of them tied the game and three gave the Blues lead.

The Blues are 4-1-0 this season when Tarasenko scores a goal, and that is no coincidence to Hitchcock.

"I just think he's an ultra-competitive guy," Hitchcock said. "It's been ingrained in him since he's been a child. Winning is important. Coming through for people is important. It's just in his DNA.

"Some guys got it. Some guys don't."

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