The “Tarasenko doesn’t try hard enough” take is tired, old, and just plain wrong. It has always been wrong, it probably always will be wrong, and it always resurfaces in stretches of games like the first five of the season. The team doesn’t look great, and fans had been hyping up the new roster all summer. But, just maybe, the guy to blame for the early-season confusion isn’t the best player on the roster.
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Tarasenko leads Blues forwards in Corsi (all shot attempts) through 5 games with a whopping 46, literally double the next highest number on the team: Brayden Schenn’s 23. Tarasenko’s 46 is tied for third among all forwards in the league. Each individual shot attempt has a corresponding “xG” value. These values translate into the percent chance of that shot being a goal. Some shots have less than a 1% chance of finding the back of the net, while others (a breakaway for example—remember that one we gave up to Toews the other day?) can have as high an xG as 0.15, a 15% chance of scoring. The sum of all the individual shots gives a total xG number. Vladdy’s so far is 2.35, almost one full point higher than the next highest. For reference, the man leading the league in scoring so far with 10 goals through his first 5 games, Austin Matthews, has an individual xG value of 2.81, good for 7th in the league. Tarasenko ranks 18th.
So why aren’t all these chances being converted? Well, Vladdy’s shooting an abysmal 6.67% so far, about half of his career average shooting percentage, which hovers around 13%. So, while it might not be what fans want to hear, it’s valid to say that if he keeps doing what he’s doing he will show up on the score sheet much more regularly.
Hockey is, more than almost any other sport, largely based on luck. PDO, which is the sum of the team’s shooting percentage and save percentage when a given player is on the ice, is typically known throughout the analytics community as the “luck stat” of hockey. The PDO number to remember is 100. If your number is much higher than 100, you’re getting friendly bounces and your production is likely to decrease. Similarly, if you’re number is too much lower than 100, you can pretty much count on things getting better on their own. Anything lower than ~98 or higher than ~102 is essentially guaranteed to regress to the mean eventually.
Vladimir Tarasenko has a ridiculously low PDO of 89.41 currently, good for second lowest on the team. Despite dominating opponents in shooting attempts (61.27% of shots go towards the opponents net when he’s playing) Vladdy is getting outscored 8-6 when he’s on the ice. High-percentage shots for are getting saved, and low-percentage shots against are going in. And while it’s easy to complain about, a reasonable fix is to just let the problem fix itself.
Many fans will probably read this and say, “Hey idiot, the numbers might say one thing, but the results are clear.” First of all, 4 points in 5 games is a fine number. And secondly, the numbers are true, and the numbers reinforce what you see when you watch the game. Every time I see a tweet or an Instagram comment about how Tarasenko just floats around on the ice waiting for an easy shot, I wonder if we’re watching the same game. Vladdy is an absolute force on the ice, and for years now the Blues have absolutely dominated games when he’s out there, both in terms of shot attempts and goals. He plays the game in a different way from guys like fan-favorite Jaden Schwartz, who everyone loves to see dig pucks out from in deep, but one of the main reasons why Tarasenko steals less pucks is because he generally has the puck already. He’s not going to physically punish people, but he hits more than the typical skill player and he shoots at a rate comparable to the best in the league.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t critique Tarasenko’s play at all. Every player has flaws. But claiming that he doesn’t work hard, that he needs to shoot more or “better” is just stupid. It’s a cop-out excuse for bad team defense and an inability to hold on to a lead. Vlad Tarasenko creates the most offense for the team by a wide margin, and is among the best in the league at doing so, and I’ll take that over some guy who hits people any day.
*Stats from Manny Perry’s amazing corsica.hockey*