Vladimir Tarasenko is making his season debut for the St. Louis Blues at the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday (FS-W, FS-MW, NHL.TV).
“I never [thought] that I missed so much time that I [will] have a slow start,” Tarasenko said. “I will have played as best as I can right away, and have a lot of positive emotions for coming back, so I hope I can help the team and score some goals.”
The forward was expected to play on a line with Ryan O’Reilly and Jordan Kyrou.
“We’re all excited. It’s been a long time and, you know, long time for him, so I think everybody’s excited, including ‘Vladi,'” St. Louis coach Craig Berube said. “Expectations, I mean, I don’t really put expectations on it. He needs to go out, work hard and compete. It’s been a long time since he played a game, so you don’t want to put too much pressure on him, or he shouldn’t put too much on himself either. Let’s go play and work hard and compete.”
Tarasenko had surgery on his left shoulder for the third time Sept. 17 and hadn’t played a regular-season game since dislocating the shoulder against the Kings on Oct. 24, 2019, and having surgery three days later. He returned and played four games last postseason before being shut down after Game 2 of the Western Conference First Round against the Vancouver Canucks on Aug. 14.
“It was a long period without playing hockey, but most important, I needed to get it fixed and get it done and get healthy again,” Tarasenko said. “The doctors in Vail, Colorado did a great job, the Blues doctors did a great job, everybody was on the same page. We worked a lot and I’m finally able to play.”
Tarasenko first dislocated the shoulder April 7, 2018, against the Colorado Avalanche.
“The three surgeries is in the past, there was some speculation still, but they were different injuries,” Tarasenko said. “It was not the same injury … three times. So now it’s healthy and I feel stronger and ready to come back and I can’t wait when I can step on the ice.”
Tarasenko scored 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in 10 games last season, ending a streak of five consecutive seasons when he scored at least 30 goals.
“It’s hard when you’re not playing, just being in the locker room all the time and seeing the guys preparing for game and not being able to attend those,” Tarasenko said.
The Blues (14-8-2) had won four straight games, outscoring opponents 18-14, after going 1-4-0 while being outscored 13-8 in their previous five. They were second in the Honda West Division, one point behind the Vegas Golden Knights having played four more games.
“If you look in the standings, there is a pretty tight playoff picture, so we just need to win games and I have to play good,” Tarasenko said.
St. Louis forwards Jaden Schwartz and Tyler Bozak, and defenseman Colton Parayko, are out indefinitely each with an upper-body injury. Forward Robert Thomas (thumb) has missed nine games, and forward Ivan Barbashev (ankle) has missed four games. Forward Jacob de la Rose (lower body) was injured in the first period of a 7-6 win at the San Jose Sharks on Feb. 27. Defenseman Carl Gunnarsson (knee) is out for the season after he was injured against the Kings on Feb. 22.
“Our team has changed a lot since the last time he played,” Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said. “Like, over 20 games, there’s been a lot of turnover here. I think having [Tarasenko] on the road the last couple of trips has really helped him. It’s one thing to be at home and training, but it’s another thing to be traveling with the guys.
“Now you try to protect him if he’s getting tired in a game or things like that. You don’t want to subject him to injury, but the training that he’s done, the strength he has in his shoulder, we wouldn’t put him out there if we didn’t think he could perform.”
NHL.com independent correspondent Dan Arritt contributed to this story