NASHVILLE — Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy took significant step in his recovery Wednesday, getting full clearance to return to Lightning practice by early next week.
Vasilevskiy, 21, expected to be Ben Bishop's backup has been sidelined since Sept. 3 surgery to address a blood clot that was around his left collarbone. While Vasilevskiy has been working out this past month, it wasn't until Tuesday's follow-up appointment with surgeon Dr. Karl Illig that he got taken off blood thinner medication, which had restricted him from strenuous activity and facing shots above his waist.
Vasilevskiy will likely join the Lightning for Monday's practice in St. Louis. The team will determine when Vasilevskiy is ready to begin a conditioning assignment with AHL Syracuse. The Crunch plays Oct. 28 in Toronto, as well as a three-game homestand Oct. 30 to Nov. 1, so it's possible Vasilevskiy could be playing with it by then.
Vasilevskiy, who was impressive as a rookie last season (7-5-1, 2.36 goals-against average in 16 games), would provide a big boost once he returns to the Lightning.
Goalie Kevin Poulin, claimed off waivers from the Islanders in late September, is the current backup, but hasn't played. Bishop has started each of the team's first seven games (4-2-1, 2.56). While the Lightning has back-to-back games Friday in Winnipeg and Saturday in Chicago, Bishop could still start both, with two days off before the Winnipeg game and two days off after Chicago.
The real question is what the Lightning will do with Poulin once Vasilevskiy is back. There's no room at Syracuse, with Kristers Gudlevskis and Adam Wilcox the goalies. Wilcox would have to clear waivers to get sent down anyway, and releasing him would potentially leave the Lightning on the hook for his $600,00 salary.
PK SHAKEUP: The Lightning's much-maligned penalty kill has been much improved in the past two games, killing six consecutive power plays, including a key one late in regulation of Tuesday's 5-4 shootout loss at Nashville.
And some new personnel has played a role. Right wing Ryan Callahan, a key penalty killer and shot blocker during his time with the Rangers, was added to the unit after hardly doing it at all last season. Having Cedric Paquette back in the lineup the past three games has also helped.
"What we were doing before wasn't getting it done, so we changed things up," coach Jon Cooper said. "Changed a little personnel up and I think it's changed our vibe there a little bit. We've got a few more shot blockers. We're going to work different guys in there on the penalty kill because you can never have enough of them. But we like what we have going on right now."
SHOOTING BLANKS: The Lightning's struggles in the shootout continue, with Tuesday's loss making Tampa Bay 3-6 since the beginning of last season. Tampa Bay scored on just five of 20 chances last year and went 0-for-3 Tuesday.
"It comes down to a skills competition," Cooper said. "It weighs in favor of the goaltender when you get to the shootout."
Speaking of skills competition, Tuesday's 3-on-3 overtime period was much more measured than Tampa Bay's first experience in the Oct. 8 season opener. It was less of a track meet, with players, on a couple of occasions bringing the puck back to set up a line change. "I think you're going probably see that a little bit more," Cooper said. "You're not going to see up and down chances. Now teams are waiting for their break. It's a little bit more controlled than it was (Oct. 8). It probably makes it a little bit boring, but you get your chances."
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