BRANDON — The Lightning’s 4-1 victory over the Flames on Thursday was not only a big win for the team’s defense but also for goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Twelve starts into Vasilevskiy’s season, his numbers don’t accurately indicate how well he has played. He entered the game having allowed three or more goals in seven straight games and nine of his first 11.
His effort Thursday while compiling a season-high 39 saves was vintage Vasilevskiy, but it was also a result of the Lightning playing better in front of him.
Though it allowed 40 shots on goal, Tampa Bay kept Calgary mostly to the outside, allowing its goaltender to see the puck. The Lightning also avoided the turnovers that have led to odd-man rushes and put Vasilevskiy on an island at times this season.
The result was the fewest goals the Lightning have allowed in a game this season.
“At some point, that had to turn for us,” coach Jon Cooper said. “But we had gotten in our own way in a lot of these. But (Thursday), we didn’t give up the bad one where our goalies had no chance, and we were the reason it happened.”
Though Vasilevskiy’s statistics — a 6-5-1 record, 2.92 goals-against average and .906 save percentage — don’t compare to what we’re used to seeing from arguably the league’s top goaltender, everyone in the Lightning locker room would say that Vasilevskiy has deserved a better fate and his redemption has started with Thursday’s win.
“We know the caliber of goaltender that he is, and he certainly showed that (Thursday),” captain Steven Stamkos said after the game. “A couple of tough ones the last couple games with some of our blunders ending up in the net, and (Thursday) was more of a traditional game where we at least try to let ‘Vasy’ see the puck, and he’s going to stop most of them.”
Vasilevskiy, typically his own worst critic, isn’t satisfied with his start or his team’s (10-6-1). But he knows it’s more important how a season ends than the way it begins.
The mistakes the team has made are correctable, though there has been a disturbing trend of them, including the five shorthanded goals the Lightning have allowed.
“I feel like we’ve played pretty much the same way as the first 15 games (last season),” Vasilevskiy said. “Obviously, the shorthanded goals didn’t help me with my numbers. It’s just unacceptable, but it is what it is. We’re still trying to find our identity.”
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This season’s Lightning are a work in progress, with several players adjusting to new roles following the offseason departures of defensemen Ryan McDonagh and Jan Rutta, and forward Ondrej Palat. They have had to fill three spots on defense, and there has been tinkering with both special-teams units.
Just give it time, Vasilevskiy said.
“It’s really hard to be perfect right away from Game One, especially with a new team,” he said. “But no excuses. Everybody just keeps saying that we’ve played lots of hockey, three (straight Stanley Cup finals). … But it’s all excuses, and I definitely won’t go in that direction or cry about it. It’s a privilege to play lots of hockey.
“We’ve all got our jobs, and we have to get our jobs done, and it is what it is. It’s not perfect now, but we are trying to improve our game. … It’s not even a quarter of the season yet. There’s still a lot of hockey. … I’m pretty sure we’ll get there.”
NOTES: The Lightning could get defenseman Zach Bogosian back for Saturday night’s game in Nashville. Bogosian hasn’t played this season after offseason shoulder surgery. With defenseman Cal Foote (upper body) likely headed to injured reserve, Bogosian can be activated easily. … Defenseman Nick Perbix did not practice Friday after leaving Thursday’s game early. Perbix and defenseman Erik Cernak, who returned to practice Friday after missing Thursday’s game, are considered day to day. … Center Anthony Cirelli (shoulder surgery) was a full participant in practice, graduating from a red no-contact jersey to a regular practice jersey.
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at email@example.com. Follow @EddieintheYard.
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