Vladimir Tarasenko (Mark Buckner/NHL)
Vladimir Tarasenko has been on fire for the St. Louis Blues for two games, but while he can't keep up his goal scoring pace, can his influence on the game still grow? Plus we take a look at three other players that advanced stats suggest could improve through the playoffs.
As a 20-year old with SKA St. Petersburg in 2011-12, Vladimir Tarasenko had a terrific playoff performance. He was acquired by the team late in the season via trade, since his old team, Sibir Novosibirsk, figured he was leaving for the NHL at the end of the season. So Tarasenko became the newest member of the top seed in the Western Conference.
St. Petersburg played 15 games in that Gagarin Cup run, but failed to meet expectations by losing in the conference final. Tarasenko, however, exceeded what was expected of him. He led the team with 10 goals and 16 points to finish fourth in overall playoff scoring. And he was six points better than the next player who didn’t qualify for the final.
And now Tarasenko is lighting it up in the Stanley Cup playoffs – and against the best competition he’s faced in the NHL yet.
According to shiftchart.com, Tarasenko has only had a few small seconds of ice time in St. Louis’ series against Chicago where one of Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook or Niklas Hjalmarsson were not on the ice (at least the Seabrook problem is now solved). In fact, Keith was on the ice for 22 of Tarasenko’s 28 shifts in Game 2 and 36 of 41 in Game 1. According to extraskater.com, the quality of competition Tarasenko has faced so far is the best he’s seen in his NHL career. Against Chicago's lineup, this can be anticipated.
And though Tarasenko is counted on for his offensive potential (he very rarely starts a shift in the defensive zone) his starts don’t always favor scoring. Tarasenko – at 53.3 percent – has a higher percentage of neutral zone faceoff starts than any other Blue and it's not even close. He’s not often starting a shift penned into his own zone like team leaders David Backes, T.J. Oshie and Alexander Steen are, but it’s not like he’s being started on Corey Crawford’s door step every time out either.
So far, Tarasenko has been used by Ken Hitchcock as a second-line producer with a ton of neutral zone starts. With David Backes out, with the Blues giving up last change on the road, and with Tarasenko in the midst of a hot streak, Hitchcock will have to consider using his flashy Russian more aggressively.
Tarasenko’s high PDO – and the fact he’s on a four-game goal scoring streak – suggest his goal conversion rate will slow, but his 5-on-5 Corsi and Corsi relative percentage is lower than it was in either of his first two regular seasons. This suggests that while his goals may slow some, his influence in creating chances actually has room to grow.
And he’s done all this coming off a wrist injury.
MATT CALVERT, COLUMBUS
The 24-year-old Blue Jacket hasn’t played a playoff game since 2009-10 as a member of the WHL's Brandon Wheat Kings, but he’s been a big player with an increased role against Pittsburgh.
And though his personal goal scoring and shooting percentage (33.3) aren't sustainable, the influence he has had in the series indicated by a +6.8 percent relative Corsi is. Brandon Dubinsky, Cam Atkinson and Artem Anisimov are guys Calvert often plays with and they all have shooting percentages of 0. Anisimov and Atkinson were second and third on the team in goal scoring during the season, so they appear due for something. If Calvert doesn’t keep scoring or personally putting as many shots on net through the rest of this Pittsburgh series, he may continue to be noticeable on the game sheet by posting some assists. His current Corsi relative may be the highest it’s ever been in his NHL career, but it’s not all that much higher than it was over the 2012-13 regular season. It's not an anomaly that will be reigned in.
He’s also drawn three penalties and taken none, which is a positive plus-minus that actually means something.
TOMAS PLEKANEC, MONTREAL
Here’s an example of how useless of a stat the traditional plus-minus is: Plekanec is a minus-1 through three games against Tampa Bay.
Through Montreal’s three wins, Plekanec has two goals, despite the fact he has fewer offensive zone starts than any other Hab and begins 84.7 percent of his shifts either in his own zone or in the neutral zone. While his shooting percentage (22.2) will inevitably come down at some point, he should start recording some assists. Not only that, but at 5-on-5, Montreal’s save percentage with Plekanec on the ice so far this post-season has been an abysmal .789. That’s not saying Price is immediately worse when Plekanec is on the ice. What it is saying is that not many shots are put on Montreal’s net when Plekanec is on the ice, but so far he’s had the bad luck of a high percentage of them going in. That will come down – and as it does, Plekanec’s all-round contribution will look all the more impressive.
P-A PARENTEAU, COLORADO
The extreme scoring being done by Nathan MacKinnon and Paul Stastny so far for the Colorado Avalanche may be unsustainable, but so is the low level of score sheet production from Parenteau.
Without Matt Duchene in the lineup, the Avs need all the scoring help they can get to fill that void, and though the Avs’ shooting percentage at 5-on-5 with Stastny, MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog on the ice is at or above a ridiculous 20 percent, Colorado is converting on a paltry 6.7 percent of their even strength shots with Parenteau on the ice. His Corsi is only a bit higher than it usually is – which suggests he’s just as influential as he always has been, plus a boost from the fact the Avs have dominated the Wild – but he still doesn't have a point in the series. Whether his linemates start scoring or he eventually starts popping in some of his own shot opportunities, when the Avs’ current scorers inevitably slow a bit, at least Colorado can look to Parenteau for a boost.