St. Louis Blues: Dmitrij Jaskin’s Return, Success Not Surprising

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports /

Reading between the lines from Ken Hitchcock’s Friday comments, it shouldn’t have been a surprise that he gave Dmitrij Jaskin a shot on Saturday.

Even though he hinted at possible lineup changes for Saturday’s Game 5 of the St. Louis Blues’ second-round series with the Dallas Stars, coach Ken Hitchcock surprised many Blues observers when he chose to insert winger Dmitrij Jaskin into the lineup, replacing Ryan Reaves, who has made his fair share of headlines during the series. Despite the fact that the 23-year-old Jaskin had just four goals and nine assists during 65 regular-season games with the Blues this season, he made Hitchcock look brilliant on Saturday, as he scored a second-period goal that went on to be the game-winner in the Blues’ 4-1 victory.

Seeing as Hitchcock had used just 13 forwards, none of whom were Jaskin, up until Saturday, it was somewhat surprising to see him inject new blood into the lineup. It’s definitely worth noting, though, that Hitchcock seems to be heavily influenced by his opposing coach’s decisions, and he’s previously expressed his respect for Dallas coach Lindy Ruff, which is manifested through his need to react to Ruff’s lineup decisions. See this comment from December 27 of this season:

Since Ruff has been getting awfully creative with his lineup decisions lately, altering his forward corps to insert wingers Curtis McKenzie, who played three regular season games with the club this season, and Brett Ritchie, who participated in eight NHL contests, it figured that Hitchcock would want to emulate the decisions of his longtime “frenemy.” By giving an opportunity to Jaskin, who has yet to play in a playoff game this season and had not played in any game since April 7 at Chicago, Hitchcock was able to give Ruff some of his own medicine.

Once one has read or listened to enough Ken Hitchcock quotes, they begin to pick out the keywords in order to read between the lines.

In this case, the phrase “maybe have more depth” was a pretty good indicator that Hitchcock wanted to follow the lead of Ruff, who’s used 15 different forwards through the first five games of this series, and expand his repertoire of available players. By getting Jaskin into a game for the first time in a month, Hitchcock put the Blues into position to receive two potential benefits.

First of all, he threw the Stars off balance with a player that they haven’t seen yet through the series. In addition, even if he hadn’t been as much of a difference-maker as he ultimately was on Saturday, it was a good opportunity to keep Jaskin fresh and fit to play in a game against a more skillful future opponent such as the San Jose Sharks or Pittsburgh Penguins. In a way, it sounds wrong to utilize a player in a playoff game just for the sake of keeping him fresh or tripping up the opponent, but when Ruff is throwing guys out there that he used less than 10 times during the regular season, that type of move seems to be fair game.

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As far as adjusting things for “how they want to play Games 5 and 6”, it was pretty clear that this series was going to become more of a speed and skill battle over the last few games. It started out as a battle of physicality and grittiness, but that element of the series seemed to peak with Ryan Reaves’s outright knockout of Curtis McKenzie near the end of Game 3.

The Upshall-Brodziak-Jaskin grouping on the fourth line gives the Blues their most skillful lineup (unless Ty Rattie were to be inserted into the lineup), so by inserting Jaskin, a proven scorer who brings some physicality, the Blues have a greater chance to get the puck on the net, rather than sacrificing offense to use a bruiser like Reaves or a pest like Steve Ott on the fourth line.

The fact that Jaskin played one of his best games of 2015-16 on December 27 at Dallas definitely could have been a factor, too. While Jaskin didn’t collect any points, he did a great job of stepping up and playing on a line with Robby Fabbri and Jori Lehtera, playing 13:59 over 23 shifts–tied for his second-highest total of the season–while stabilizing that third line and collecting two hits. Regardless of if he brought the offensive element of his game that has eluded him for much of 2015-16, Jaskin was going to provide a steady presence against Dallas, so it made sense to give him a look.

Considering that so much of Jaskin’s career success has come against highly-skilled opponents–he’s been most productive against the Blackhawks, scoring three goals against them in 10 career games, and he’s scored his other goals this season against the Red Wings, Senators, Rangers, and Predators–it wasn’t too surprising to see him succeed against such a quick, skillful Stars team. Even though he didn’t show it much this season, Jaskin clearly has a special ability to get the puck in the net, seeing as he scored 13 goals in just 54 games last season. At some point, that ability was going to make itself known again.

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We’ll see how much more action Jaskin gets during the playoffs, but considering the fact that he scored on Saturday, he seems to have a pretty good shot at sticking in the lineup for Monday’s Game 6. Since all of the teams remaining in the postseason are rather highly-skilled clubs without much of a hard-nosed, physical presence, it definitely seems possible that Jaskin could get a good chunk of the action in that fourth-line right wing spot the rest of the way.