Andrei Vasilevskiy is finally back for the Tampa Bay Lightning, as he is confirmed to get the start in goal for the Bolts on Friday against the Carolina Hurricanes after missing the first 20 games of the season recovering from back surgery. The Lightning have managed to hold down the fort in the meantime, finding themselves in third in the Atlantic Division with a 9-6-5 record, but they will certainly welcome back Vasilevskiy to the lineup.
But, the Lightning’s struggles this season haven’t been their goaltending without Vasilevskiy, it’s actually been their team defense. Matt Larkin and Steven Ellis talk about that and why it means people shouldn’t get too excited about the Lightning returning to Cup contender status now that their star goalie has returned.
Matt Larkin: I’m wondering if people need to just tone down the enthusiasm with Vasilevskiy’s return, because he’s not going to solve everything. If you look under the hood of the Lightning, they’re bottom 10 in shots against and expected goals against per 60 at 5-on-5 this season. They really hung Jonas Johansson out to dry, he was one of the busiest goalies in the league. He’s seen the most shots, Tampa Bay allowing 32+ shots per game. This is the worst they’ve been defensively in the Jon Cooper era.
So when you think about Vasilevskiy coming back, I don’t think it necessarily means this team is going to go on a giant heater and rocket up the standings, they still have a lot to clean up in their own end. And Vasilevskiy is probably going to take some time to get into his rhythm as well, so I wouldn’t be just betting on this crazy run for the Lightning just yet.
They still are a more flawed team than we’re used to seeing in recent years. What do you think, agree or disagree?
Steven Ellis: I 100% agree. There’s a bit of a difference between the goaltending quality in Vasilevskiy and Johansson, I think we can be very clear on that. But when it comes to Vasilevskiy, he’s missed a lot of time. It’s been the longest break of his pro hockey career I believe, so it’s going to be tough for him to get right back into the rhythm.
Give it a few games and I think we’re going to see a guy that can steal games again, and we know what he’s capable of. I wouldn’t want to bet against him, but I don’t expect a super hot start.
Matt Larkin: Yeah, I think that’s a fair assessment. I fully expect Vasilevskiy will eventually get hot, he’s still one of the best, if not the best goalie of his generation, but he’s a big guy, his game is so based on power. I just think it’s going to be hard to come in cold. Of course, he’s been working on the rehab and getting himself back, but in terms of game situations, game reactions and game reflexes, you can’t really prepare for that. There’s no preseason that he could do to get his conditioning down, so I think it will be a little while before we see peak Vasilevskiy.
Now let’s watch him go out and get a shutout tonight and make me look bad.
Steven Ellis: You know, I will say this, I wouldn’t rule him out of the Vezina Trophy. We know what he can do when he’s hot, and he could just go on a heater for the rest of the year and win, who knows?
Matt Larkin: I think that’s entirely possible.
You can watch the full episode here…