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Hitchcock: Tarasenko is looking for 'home run'

Blues coach says forward, scoreless in series against Sharks, can't try to do too much in Game 6

by Louie Korac / Correspondent

ST. LOUIS -- There's no doubt forward Vladimir Tarasenko can make an impact each time the St. Louis Blues take the ice.

Tarasenko led the Blues with 40 goals during the regular season and scored a team-high 77 over the past two seasons. He started the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs in typical fashion, with 13 points in 14 games (seven goals, six assists) against the Chicago Blackhawks and Dallas Stars; he has 17 goals and 15 assists in 32 career playoff games.

But in the Western Conference Final against the San Jose Sharks, Tarasenko has zero points and hasn't been a factor, one reason the Blues trail the series 3-2 and could be eliminated in Game 6 on Wednesday at SAP Center (9 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).

Part of it is the job the Sharks are doing, particularly their defensive pair of Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun, but Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said part of it is Tarasenko is trying to do too much.

"Let me write your story for you," Hitchcock said Tuesday. "What happens with goal scorers when they get frustrated is they look to hit home runs. We need him to just act like a worker. I know that's a funny thing to say, but he's looking for the home run. The guy he's playing against [Vlasic] did the same thing to [the Los Angeles Kings' Tyler] Toffoli and did the same thing to [the Nashville Predators' Filip] Forsberg. You can't look for home runs. They're not there.

Video: The Blues' Tarasenko continues to Struggle

"They feel that anxiety to try and score and help the team. He's looking to try to catch fast breaks, he's looking to try catch the other team napping. But when you play against guys like Vlasic, you're not going to catch them napping. Maybe he doesn't score the next game, but if he plays a good team game, probably he's going to allow other people to score. He's gotten himself too far away from the play, he's gotten himself too stretched out, and we just need him to come back to the puck."

Tarasenko said he is not letting his lack of scoring affect him.

"Sometimes you score, sometimes you don't," Tarasenko said. "You can't score every game. So, at the same time, you need to help your team. You can be a factor. That's what I try to do. I believe it's coming if you just don't think about it.

"... It's that time of year when you trade your goals to reach a goal and win a [Stanley] Cup. It's not the time to think about your goals."

Blues forward Alexander Steen said, "Everybody has their roles. They're playing him hard, just like the rest of the group. Doesn't matter who's putting the pucks in the net, we've just got to win games.

"... With his shot and his talent and capabilities, he's always a threat."

Video: SJS@STL, Gm2: Jones denies Tarasenko's chance

Tarasenko has 12 shots in the series, but six of them came Game 2 and he had one in Game 5. He has a shooting percentage of 11.9 in 19 playoff games this season compared to 42.9 last season in six games.

During the regular season, the coaching staff would have more time to work with the 24-year-old Tarasenko, who signed an eight-year, $60 million contract last summer, but with the compressed playoff schedule and the Blues one loss away from having their season end, St. Louis can only hope he breaks out quickly.

"We've got to bring it back [to St. Louis] for Game 7, that's the goal," Hitchcock said. "So he's just part of the mix. He's a guy that's ... he's struggled this series. He's struggled offensively, he hasn't gotten the looks offensively that he normally gets. But he's one shift away from breaking it open. It's like any other goal scorer, when they don't score, there's a frustration level that comes in, and it's my job to make sure and correct the frustration level if I can."

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