The St. Louis Blues will begin life without Vladimir Tarasenko on Saturday night when they host the Arizona Coyotes.
The Blues traded Tarasenko and defenseman Niko Mikkola to the New York Rangers on Thursday for a conditional first-round pick in the 2023 NHL Draft, a conditional fourth-round selection in 2024, forward Sammy Blais and prospect Hunter Skinner.
Tarasenko, 31, recorded 553 points (262 goals, 291 assists) in 644 career games with St. Louis.
“I don’t think anyone really expected it (Thursday), so it was a little bit shocking,” Blues center Robert Thomas said. “It’s part of the game. … It’s always a possibility with the situation we’re in. For us, we have a chance before the deadline to prove that we’re still right there and we’ve still got it. That’s our focus.”
More trades could be coming before the NHL trade deadline on March 3 as the Blues continue to retool after essentially falling out of the Western Conference playoff race this season.
“I’m not looking to rush to do anything,” Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said. “And you know what? Obviously, we want to see how our guys respond. We were not playing good hockey going into the break. Now, we’ve had time to regroup and refresh, and I’m looking forward to seeing how they play on Saturday moving forward.”
Blais returned to the Blues after moving to the Rangers in the trade that sent Pavel Buchnevich to St. Louis before the 2021-22 season. He spent four seasons with the Blues before that deal.
“A lot of new faces, but most of them have been really nice,” Blais said. … “Hopefully just get in here and play good.”
The Blues staggered into the All-Star break by being outscored 23-10 during a five-game losing streak.
The Coyotes bring a four-game point streak (2-0-2) into Saturday’s clash. Arizona broke out to an early two-goal lead on Friday before the Chicago Blackhawks rode a 44-shot barrage to a 4-3 victory in overtime.
“I feel like we were up and we maybe shouldn’t have been up at the beginning,” Arizona forward Nick Bjugstad said. “It was a back-and-forth game. It’s been kind of a theme; we have to find ways to be better to start and play a full 60 (minutes).
“There was some push and pull as far as odd-man rushes there, (the Blackhawks) had a decent amount of those, which obviously is an indicator of a breakdown.”
Arizona defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere remained sidelined by an upper-body injury, but forward Liam O’Brien returned from his hand injury to play his first game since Dec. 16.
“I’m just trying to get back in the rhythm of things,” O’Brien told Bally Sports Arizona. “I don’t know how many (games) I missed, but it felt like a long time. I’m just happy to be back with my teammates.”
The Coyotes cruised to a 5-0 victory over the Blues on Jan. 26. Nick Schmaltz recorded a hat trick to highlight his four-point performance, and Karel Vejmelka made 33 saves to earn the shutout.
Connor Ingram drew the start in Chicago on Friday, so Vejmelka (14-17-4, 3.16 goals-against average) is expected to face the Blues again.
The Blues likely will counter with Jordan Binnington (18-18-3, 3.27 GAA), who hasn’t won a game since Jan. 19. They could get captain Ryan O’Reilly (broken foot) and Buchnevich (ankle infection) back from the injured list.
–Field Level Media