TAMPA — G Andrei Vasilevskiy understands his role as backup, but that doesn't make it any easier go more than a week between starts.
"I need more games," Vasilevskiy said Wednesday.
On Thursday, Vasilevskiy got his wish, getting reassigned to AHL Syracuse so that he can play for the Crunch tonight and Saturday. G Kristers Gudlevskis was recalled and was available to back up Ben Bishop, who started Thursday and is expected to play Saturday against Washington.
Vasilevskiy played in seven games since his early November return from vascular surgery. He was pulled in the second period of Sunday's 3-1 loss to the Kings after allowing two goals on 10 shots. It was his first start since Nov. 27. Vasilevskiy is 2-4 with a 2.76 goals-against average, having lost his last four starts.
"I think usually when I play, I feel better," Vasilevskiy said. "I feel myself sharp. I feel the puck, I control the puck better. If I don't, for me, it's something very hard."
It's a delicate balance of developing Vasilevskiy, presumably the Lightning's No. 1 goalie of the future, and the fact that the Lightning (13-12-3) is desperate for points. With Bishop playing arguably the best hockey of his career, he's carried a heavy load, appearing in 23 of 29 games. But Vasilevskiy could rejoin the Lightning for its back-to-back games Monday (Columbus) and Tuesday (Toronto).
"Andrei Vasilevskiy is a goaltender on our team and he's staying that way, and he's got a big future in this league," coach Jon Cooper said. "But Ben Bishop is our starter right now and if there's little pockets where Vasy can get games I'm sure that's going to be the plan for him. Other than that he's got to do what Ben Bishop had to do when he was coming up. All these starting goaltenders, not too many of them jumped right in and grabbed the net and stayed in the net.
"This is part of the learning process, but in saying that, you got to get the guys games, whether it's in the NHL or American League, when you can fit games in for goaltenders you got to find a way."
WELCOME BACK: LW Ondrej Palat returned to the lineup for the first time since suffering a left ankle injury Nov. 7. With Palat back, the touted Triplets line — with C Tyler Johnson, RW Nikita Kucherov— was reunited.
WAITING GAME: C Cedric Paquette (upper body) and RW Erik Condra (lower body) did not participate in Thursday's skate, both at least a week away from returning. Cooper said Paquette could be sidelined as long as two weeks. Paquette has played in just 10 games this season.
"We're definitely erring on the side of caution because we can't put these guys in position there when they come back for a game or two and then are gone for another month," Cooper said. "Better let them rest now and hope in a week or so we'll look back and say, 'Okay, yes, they're ready to go.' "
NUTS AND BOLTS: With D Nikita Nesterov in the lineup, D Matt Carle was a healthy scratch for the third time. Tampa Bay went with 12 forwards/six defensemen.
Contact Joe Smith at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.