Blues’ Vladimir Tarasenko, Torey Krug will return vs. Sabres: What’s next?

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The Blues will be getting re-enforcement Tuesday night against the Sabres in the form of two returning injured players but also lose a key player. Both Vladimir Tarasenko and Torey Krug were activated off injured reserve and will be in the lineup against Buffalo, coach Craig Berube said, while Pavel Buchnevich was placed on IR. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Krug blocked a shot against Vegas on Dec. 23 and missed the last 13 games with a lower-body injury.
  • Tarasenko suffered a hand injury blocking a shot against Minnesota on Dec. 31 and has missed the last 10 games.
  • Buchnevich was placed on IR after the forward underwent minor surgery “to address an infection to his ankle at the site of a contusion suffered earlier in the season,” per the team’s announcement . He will be re-evaluated after the All-Star break.

Backstory

Krug, 31, has five goals and 17 points in 31 games with the Blues this season. The veteran defenseman was signed by the Blues as a free agent on Oct. 9, 2020, after playing parts of nine seasons with the Boston Bruins. Krug has 83 goals and 429 points in 669 career NHL regular-season games.

Tarasenko, 31, has 10 goals and 29 points in 34 games this season. He was drafted by the Blues with the No. 16 pick of the 2010 NHL Draft and has amassed 262 goals and 553 points in 640 regular-season games with St. Louis.

How did the Blues fare without them?

Krug typically plays in the second pairing with Justin Faulk, so the Blues have had to mix and match without him. They originally put Nick Leddy with Faulk, but then moved Niko Mikkola into that spot. They’ve used a total of eight defensemen in Krug’s absence, including rookie Tyler Tucker and Steven Santini. Where the Blues usually miss Krug is as the point man on the power play, though the unit didn’t see that much of a dropoff. They were converting 23.4 percent of their PPs when he was injured and converted 22 percent while he was out.

Tarasenko is one of the Blues’ top scorers, but the team saw a minor uptick in offense without him. They ranked No. 23 in the NHL in goals per game (3.03) when he was injured and they are currently No. 20 (3.11). Tarasenko was practicing on a line with Brayden Schenn and Ivan Barbashev on Monday, so that could be where he lines up against Buffalo.

What’s next?

The Blues will likely go with an 11-forward, seven-defensemen lineup against Buffalo, as they work Krug back into the mix. But more importantly, all eyes will be on Tarasenko as he makes his return.

Tarasenko is in the final year of his contract and could be one of the most sought-after assets at the NHL trade deadline on March 3. Any interested teams will be watching to see how Tarasenko returns from the hand injury, and whether he can be the type of scorer that Stanley Cup contenders are looking for at the deadline. He’s looked good shooting the puck in practice, so we’ll see how that translates into the games. There are 14 games left before the deadline, so he should have enough time to prove himself.

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(Photo: Sergei Belski / USA Today)

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