It's only a matter of time before goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy is back with the Lightning.
Coach Jon Cooper said Vasilevskiy, having looked sharp in two rehab starts for AHL Syracuse, will join Tampa Bay on its upcoming road trip, which begins Sunday in Carolina.
And when Vasilevskiy does, he'll be playing in his share of games, including potentially Sunday against the Hurricanes, the second of a back-to-back.
He has to.
It's the best thing not only for Vasilevskiy's development as a future No. 1, but also to preserve the health of current No. 1 Ben Bishop, who has played in more games the past two years than all but two other NHL goaltenders.
"You just don't sit here and say Bish is going to play 60 plus games and and Vasy is only going to play 10 of them," Cooper said. "The whole point of this is to have a one-two tandem and in a perfect world a 1 and 1A tandem. Vasy needs games. Part of this is that he's an NHL caliber goaltender. He's going to be a really, really good one. But he needs games to play.
"Other part is Bish, he has played a lot in the last two years, so there's nothing wrong with evening this out a little bit and giving Bishop a rest. He's proven over time he can handle the load, as you just saw in the playoffs and at the start of the year. But you don't want to put him in a position to where he's going to wear down."
Vasilevskiy was expected to share the load with Bishop to start the season as a backup, with the Lightning wanting him to get at least 20 starts. But that plan was temporarily scratched when Vasilevskiy had to undergo early September surgery to fix a blood clot in his left collarbone area. Bishop has started 10 of the first 11 games, and is expected to start tonight against the Bruins. He said he had been dealing with a minor nagging issue early in the season, but since has gotten better.
"It was nothing big, just one of those things where once the season starts you're never 100 percent," Bishop said. "Nothing more than any year past."
With the Lightning hoping to play until mid-June, giving Bishop some rest would be the prudent thing. Vasilevskiy showed he can play in the NHL last season, including stepping in for Bishop in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final. And Vasilevskiy didn't play particularly well when he went lengthy periods without starts late last season. It'd be better for him to get more reps.
"Last year was his first year so you expect him to kind of build on that," Bishop said. "Obviously he's got a bright future, so it'll be fun to see him get back up here."