Blues’ Halak, Tarasenko hope improved fitness helps on ice

ST. LOUIS, Mo. — One worked up an offseason sweat in St. Louis for the first time. The other returned to Russia to train with his dad. Two drastically different approaches that appear to have paid off.
“I’m really happy for those guys,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said Friday. “We said at the end of the year, we asked people to make some strides here, to do some things extra. We outlined a plan for every guy, what we wanted to see change off the ice and during the summer. So far, so good.”
Blues goaltender Jaroslav Halak and right wing Vladimir Tarasenko shared similar demands. Both had finished seasons that tailed off toward the end. Both were asked by their general manager and coach to come back in better shape for 2013-14.
It’s early, but it appears both followed through.
“I worked hard this summer, working with my father for the whole two months,” Tarasenko said Friday. “I tried to be ready for training camp.”
Tarasenko, 21, who played in 38 games as a rookie, scored eight goals and had 11 assists. Yet after netting two pucks in a loss March 28, he dished just three assists and failed to score in the next 15 games. In late February, he received a concussion during a game in Colorado, an injury that required him to miss 10 games.
The concussion, perhaps combined with his lack of conditioning, caused him to fade down the stretch. With a full schedule not shortened by lockout waiting for him this year, he tried to help himself.
More telling than Tarasenko’s reserved description of his training process are the results team trainer Nelson Ayotte released this week. Tarasenko tied with Ryan Reaves for third in the team’s off-ice conditioning program conducted at the start of training camp.
Numbers can also show Halak’s progress.
The Blues starting goalkeeper stayed behind when his teammates left St. Louis, using team facilities to cut 14 pounds of body fat and drop his body fat percentage into the single digits. He feels this new look will help him fend off the groin injuries that twice shelved him last year.
“This season is the last season on my contract,” he said. “It’s a big challenge, to prove it to myself that I can play.”
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