DETROIT — G Andrei Vasilevskiy got a rare night off Sunday, with backup Louis Domingue making his Lightning debut.
It was a welcomed breather for Vasilevskiy, 23, who has started 34 of the team’s first 41 games, putting him on pace for 68.
Vasilevskiy has handled the workload well, leading the league in wins, goals against average, save percentage and shutouts. But some have wondered whether this pace is too much for Vasilevskiy to his first full season as No. 1.
Vasilevskiy’s workload actually isn’t much different than most No. 1s in the league, with three goalies starting more — Calgary’s Mike Smith, Toronto’s Frederik Andersen and New York’s Henrik Lundqvist all starting 35. Vasilevskiy is tied with the Kings’ Jonathan Quick and Columbus’ Sergei Bobrovsky at 34. Former Lightning G Ben Bishop has started 33 with the Stars.
Coach Jon Cooper is comfortable with Vasilevskiy’s schedule, noting Bishop started 63, 62 and 61 games in his three full seasons as No. 1 with Tampa Bay.
"I’m extremely comfortable," Cooper said. "You look at goaltenders in this league and the shape they’re in. Nobody is really breaking down because they’re out of shape. These guys want to play. Especially if you think about our five-day break (bye week) is coming up in five days (Jan. 12-16).
"We manage his games, the amount of games he plays. But he’s feeling in good shape. And if he ends up getting in the 60s, it’s no different than what (Bishop) got when he was with us. He can more than handle that."
Vasilevskiy has said he has altered his between-starts routine so he can stay fresh, which means maybe less time in the gym, or taking some optional skates off.
Goalie coach Frantz Jean cited Vasilevskiy’s work ethic and maturity, noting he "doesn’t burn the candle at both ends."
And Vasilevskiy welcomes the chance to play this much.
"I’m young," he has said. "I can handle it."
For the second straight game, the Lightning tweaked its lineup defensively. D Jake Dotchin was a healthy scratch, with D Braydon Coburn back in. D Slater Koekkoek, who had a goal and four shots in 15-plus minutes Saturday, was in the lineup again, joined by D Andrej Sustr as Tampa Bay went with seven defensemen. Cory Conacher and J.T. Brown were scratched.
More from ‘D’
The Lightning’s blueline continued its impressive production Sunday, with G Dan Girardi scoring the team’s first goal and assisting on the second. Tampa Bay entered Sunday with 100 points in its first 41 games, the second fastest it has completed that feat in franchise history (37 games in 1992-93), according to STATS. Girardi’s was the 28th goal by a Lightning defenseman this season (46 was the franchise record in 1992-93).
Nuts and Bolts
The Lightning continued to have turnover issues, especially early in the second. Tampa Bay had a combined 27 giveaways in back-to-back losses Thursday and Saturday. "When we turn pucks over, we’re an easy team to play against," captain Steven Stamkos said. … F Yanni Gourde had his first Gordie Howe hat trick Sunday (goal, assist, fight), holding his own against F Tomas Tatar. … Rookie D Mikhail Sergachev entered Sunday a combined minus-5 the previous two games. His last minus before that was Nov. 25 against Pittsburgh (minus-1). …The Lightning improved to 2-4-1 in the second half of back-to-backs after losing its past three in regulation.
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]