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Cooper ‘extremely comfortable’ with Andrei Vasilevskiy workload

Lightning No. 1 goalie has started 34 of the team's first 41 games
DIRK SHADD   |   Times  
Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) makes a save against the Dallas Stars during second period action at Amalie Arena in Tampa Thursday evening (11/16/17).
DIRK SHADD | Times Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) makes a save against the Dallas Stars during second period action at Amalie Arena in Tampa Thursday evening (11/16/17).
Published Jan. 7, 2018

Andrei Vasilevskiy is off to a phenomenal start in his first full season as Lightning No. 1 goaltender.

Vasilevskiy, 23, leads the NHL in wins, goals against average, save percentage and shutouts.

But since this is Vasilevskiy's first time going through this, there have been questions on whether the Lightning has been overworking him. Vasilevskiy has started 34 of the team's 41 games heading into tonight's game in Detroit, where he could possibly start again as the team tries to avoid a three-game losing streak.

But Vasilevskiy's workload 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 Kings' Jonathan Quick and Columbus' Sergei Bobrovsky at 34. Former Lightning goalie Ben Bishop has started 33 with the Stars.

Coach Jon Cooper is comfortable with how often he's playing Vasilevskiy, on pace for 68 starts. 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's altered his between-starts routine so he can stay fresh, which means maybe less time in the gym, or taking some optional skates off. "I'm young, I can do it," he said. Goalie coach Frantz Jean cited Vasilevskiy's work ethic and maturity, noting he "doesn't burn the candle at both ends."

The only issue going forward is the backup. With veteran Peter Budaj out week to week with a lower body injury, the Lightning has Louis Domingue behind Vasilevskiy. Depending on how much Tampa Bay trusts Domingue, it could lead to Vasilevskiy playing even more of a lion's share of the load.

Vasilevskiy gave up six goals in Saturday's loss to Ottawa, just one more goal than  he surrendered in his past six starts combined (five). But it was not on him. "What's a little discouraging is our goaltender, who is in my opinion been our MVP this year, for us to let him down like that," Cooper said.

More pre-game notes: The Red Wings come in hot, having won four straight since coming out of the Christmas break. That includes wins over the Penguins and Rangers. Skilled forward Andreas Athanasiou has provided the spark, with four goals in his past four games, including an OT winner over Ottawa Friday.. With no morning skate, we won't know the Lightning lineup until tonight. D Slater Koekkoek played well Saturday (goal, four shots in 15:19) so he could draw in again. D Braydon Coburn was a healthy scratch Saturday. Would expect some line shuffling for the Lightning tonight, too, the top line of Vladislav Namestnikov-Steven Stamkos-Nikita Kucherov slowing up a bit… A key issues with the Lightning the past few games has been turnovers, with a combined 27 giveaways the past two losses. "When we turn pucks over, we're an easy team to play against," captain Steven Stamkos said.  Rookie defenseman Mikhail Sergachev is a combined minus-5 the past two games. His previous minus was Nov. 25 against Pittsburgh (minus-1). Partner Anton Stralman – among the league leaders in plus-minus- was minus-4 against Ottawa.