The Andrei Vasilevskiy show is coming to town.
His time to be with the Tampa Bay Lightning on a permanent basis might not be just yet -- more time spent in the AHL honing his skillset and mastering the patterns and timing of the North American game would probably be the best thing for him and the team long-term.
But for one night in Philadelphia, the "best goaltending prospect in the world" lived up to the billing and then some, stopping 23 of 24 shots faced, allowing only a power play marker to Wayne Simmonds off a deflection.
The Lightning, coming off a 4-2 loss at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins the night before, were also minus starting netminder Ben Bishop, who is out at least a few days with a lower body injury sustained near the end of the first period against the Pens. Evgeni Nabokov, whom the team signed this summer to back up Bishop, had been shaky all season and continued to be so in relief a night ago, allowing 3 goals and ending the night with a sub .900 save percentage yet again.
After that loss, a call-up was imminent. But at the time, the mood seemed to be the team would go back to the veteran in net rather than starting whichever of the AHL tandem (Andrei Vasilevskiy or Kristers Gudlevskis) got the call:
No update on Bishop, expect a call up for tomorrow and Nabokov likely to start— Erik Erlendsson (@erlendssonTBO) December 16, 2014
Something changed overnight. Maybe the coaches watched the tape of Nabokov a little more closely. Maybe Vasilevskiy's fresh-faced enthusiasm reached Jon Cooper. Maybe Cooper flipped a coin. But when the teams took the ice in Philadelphia on Tuesday:
Enter Vasya, who was solid in the first period, stopping 9 Philadelphia shots and ceding just a power play goal to Wayne Simmonds as the Tampa Bay Lightning special teams play continues to flounder. A pair of first period power play opportunities for the Bolts resulted in just one shot on Flyers goaltender Steve Mason, as a decent period of even strength play was once again spoiled by a poor showing at other strengths and a few notable missed chances.
From there, it was all Lightning -- and all Vasya.
The kid stopped all 14 Philadelphia shots in the second and third periods, including a few grade A scoring chances, while the skaters in front of him slowly built some momentum after playing the night before. Steven Stamkos tied the game just two minutes in the second period, skating into a drop pass from new linemate Jonathan Drouin and firing it home for the 1-1 score. Tyler Johnson added a not-quite power play tally, scoring just as the man advantage ended, to give the Lightning a 2-1 lead 5 minutes later.
Philadelphia mounted a few extended jaunts into the Lightning end, particularly when their big line with Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek were on the ice, and they controlled play pretty handily in the third while trying to generate an equalizer and with a fading Lighting team tiring out after nearly 120 minutes of hockey in the past 24 hours.
Vasilevskiy made sure two goals was enough support, however, and Valtteri Filppula added the empty net insurance marker for the 3-1 final.
- Vasilevskiy's performance, while somewhat guarded due to a protective team and an opponent that struggles maintaining offensive pressure and testing goaltenders, really was about as good as it can get. He was athletic, he was sound in his save selection, he read the play well and he was almost always where he needed to be. You'll notice he tends to get a lot lower to see through traffic than Ben Bishop, who prefers looking over screens rather than through them, but Vasya's technique can be just as effective. If there's one significant flaw in his game, it's puckhandling -- he won't start any breakouts like Bishop or Nabokov can, and the Lightning defense will have to adjust if he's going to see the net a bit here. That's ok though. Everything else went just fine.
- There's no immediate word on what the plan is moving forward; Vasilevskiy will presumably stay with the team until Bishop is healthy and then another decision has to be made. The Lightning play back to back games this weekend again, Friday against the New Jersey Devils and Saturday against the New York Islanders. It's probably safe to assume that, ruling Bishop out, Vasya will start one of those two contests -- most likely against the more offensively challenged Devils, leaving Nabby to go against his former team on night two.
- Beyond that, no one knows but Steve Yzerman. The prospect to keep Vasilevskiy up long-term must certainly be tempting. If he plays the way he did tonight he can help this team win games right now as they have a legitimate chance to be serious Stanley Cup contenders. But long-term goals should come first, and Vasya will be with this franchise for a long, long time by the looks of things.
- An oddity with the Lightning and how they shoot the puck:
- Basically, the Flyers had more zone time, but did less with their shots. Tampa did a good job of getting in shooting lanes and getting their own shots through on Steve Mason.
- Jonathan Drouin was a shot in the arm for the top unit with Steven Stamkos and Ryan Callahan, who had been struggling over a recent stretch of games -- and not just because the line scored. They were the best possession line for the Lightning in this one, which bodes well moving forward if the Tyler Johnson-Nikita Kucherov pairing continues to be successful as well.